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Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski
The Skywatcher's Guide is the Morrison Planetarium's guide to the skies for October through December 2017.
Full Moon, or "Harvest Moon." Although some generally reserve this term for the full Moon occurring during the month of September, it properly applies to the full Moon closest to the fall equinox, which was 13 days ago, on September 22. In comparison, the full Moon of September 5 was separated from the equinox by 17 days. Traditionally, this month's full Moon has also been referred to by Native Americans as the "Blackberry Moon" (Choctaw), the "Time of Poverty" (Mohawk), and the "Moon When Water Begins to Freeze on the Edge of the Stream" (Cheyenne).
Moon at third quarter, rising after midnight against the stars of Cancer the Crab, lit from the left-hand side with the vast Ocean of Storms in direct sunlight.
New Moon—sighting of the first young crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Safar, the second month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting will be possible just after sunset on the 20th.
Uranus at opposition. Not usually included in our planet roundup, the seventh planet is actually visible in binoculars and even to very sharp-eyed observers without optical aid. It might be a little easier to see at opposition, when it's closest to Earth and at its brightest in the sky. See Notes for more observing information.
Orionid meteors, active October 17-26 and caused by dust particles from Halley's Comet burning up as they fall through Earth's atmosphere as fast as 40 miles per second. Peaking a couple of days after a new Moon, this shower may produce up to 35 meteors per hour away from city lights, especially in the hours just before dawn. This is a busy season for meteor showers, and you can find lots of information about them in the Notes.
First quarter Moon, rising in the southeast at midday and visible climbing in the southeast during the afternoon. Located in the south after sunset, it is illuminated from the right-hand side so that its "eastern seas" are visible—namely, the dark patches named Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility), Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility), Mare Nectaris (Sea of Nectar), and Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises).
Full Moon rises at sunset against the stars of Pisces the Fishes. As the full Moon immediately following the Harvest Moon, this is known as the "Hunter's Moon." Other names given to this full Moon include the "Beaver Moon" (Algonquin), the "Bison Moon" (Natchez), and the "Moon of the Falling Leaves" (Lakota Sioux).
Moon at last or third quarter, rising just before midnight tonight against the stars of Leo the Lion and very near the bright star Regulus, which represents the Lion's heart.
Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower, historically known for producing some of the greatest meteor storms ever—but not this time, unfortunately. See Notes to find out why. Normal rates are usually about 10 per hour.
New Moon occurs very early today, during the wee hours of the morning. Sighting of the first thin crescent after this date marks the stars of Rabi al awwal, the third month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible just after sunset on Nov 19.
First quarter Moon, rising at about 1 pm and visible for the rest of the day, climbing toward the south, where it's located at sunset, lit from the right-hand side.
Full Moon, also known traditionally as the "Big Freezing Moon" (Cherokee), the "Baby Bear Moon" (Osage), and the "Moon of the Popping Trees" (Lakota Sioux). Note how Winter's full Moons follow a high arc across the sky, while the Winter Sun—exactly opposite—arcs low.
Last quarter Moon rising against the stars of Leo the Lion just before midnight (and so listed as occurring on the 10th in some calendars due to adjustments for other time zones).
The annual Geminid meteor shower is at its height, active from December 4-16. Viewing prospects for this, the most reliable shower of the year, are very good. More details in Notes.
New Moon occurs very late this evening (some calendars list this on the 18th for other time zones). First sighting of the young crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Rabi at Thani, the fourth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible just after sunset on December 30.
December solstice (winter solstice for the Northern Hemisphere, summer solstice for the Southern Hemisphere) at 8:29 am, PST. For observers north of the equator, the Sun rises and sets farthest south, and its arc across the sky is lowest, spending the least amount of time over the horizon.
Peak of the Ursid meteor shower, a moderate display that's active December 17 to 25, peaking on December 22/23, which coincides with a waxing crescent Moon. At maximum, rates can normally reach 10 faint meteors per hour without interference from moonlight or city lights, radiating from a point near the bowl of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor).
First quarter Moon occurs after moonset in the wee hours of the morning. The next time we see the Moon, it'll be rising in the east at noon and located high in the south-southeast at sunset.
Created by Morrison Planetarium staff, these go-to resources cover important events occurring in our Universe.
The Academy's Benjamin Dean lecture series hosts the world's leading experts in astronomy, astrophysics, and more.
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