Peak of the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower. This is usually one of the better displays of the year, assuming ideal conditions—but how good are this year's prospects? Find out in Highlights.
Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski
Know what's up. Morrison Planetarium's Skywatcher's Guide is a quarterly compendium of heavenly happenings.
Earth at perihelion (closest to the Sun) at a distance of 91,402,500 miles (147,098,065 kilometers), compared to its average of 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 kilometers). This is a difference of less than 2%, and not enough to influence the seasons, which are caused by the tilt of Earth's axis of rotation rather than by its distance from the Sun.
The first full Moon after the winter solstice was known to some tribes of indigenous Americans as the Cold Moon (Cherokee), the Frost Exploding Moon (Cree), and a name that is popular today, the Wolf Moon (Algonquin). These seasonally appropriate names evoke images of wolves howling at the Moon on cold, frosty, winter nights.
The moon reaches the last quarter Moon at sunset, when it's still below the horizon and not yet visible. When we next see it, rising around 1 am on the morning of the 15th, it's located against the stars of the constellation Virgo the Maiden.
Visual sighting of the first crescent after today's new Moon marks the start of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This challenging sighting is possible just after sunset on the 22nd for experienced observers from the US mainland to South America and in much of Africa.
The first quarter Moon rises just before noon and is located high in the south at sunset, positioned just west of the Winter Hexagon, the stars of which become visible after dark. It sets around 1:30 am local time on the morning of the 29th.
February 2 is observed by many as Groundhog Day, when a large and probably grumpy celebrity rodent is roused from his peaceful winter nap to find out if he can see his shadow in the glare of paparazzi camera flashes. This, in one way or another, is supposed to portend when winter will end…notwithstanding the fact that predictions based on groundhog behavior are wrong about 60% of the time. However, there's an astronomical reason why this day is considered special, and it has nothing to do with groundhogs, as we explain in Highlights.
Native Americans of the Shoshone tribe dubbed the second full Moon after the winter solstice the Coyote Moon. In the Pacific Northwest, the Tlingit and—farther inland—the Kutenai of Idaho called it the Black Bear Moon, while the Shawnee of the northeastern woodlands called it the Crow Moon.
The Moon reaches the last quarter during the morning hours, when it is descending in the southwest, setting around 11:30 am local time.
The new Moon marks the start of Shaban, the eighth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. Sighting of the first young crescent after this is widely possible—although a challenge for inexperienced observers—soon after sunset on the 21st.
The Moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit since the last new phase. One-half of the face we see from Earth—its eastern hemisphere—is illuminated by the Sun, with the terminator (the line separating the Moon's daytime and nighttime halves) running straight down its center.
The third full Moon of the year was named the Worm Moon by the Algonquin of Quebec and Eastern Ontario, the Deer Moon by the Natchez of the Lower Mississippi Valley, and the Flower Moon by the Nez Perce/Nimi'ipuu of the Pacific Northwest.
Daylight Time begins at 2 am, when clocks are set forward an hour, going from 1:59:59 am to 3:00:00 am—except in Hawai'i and most of Arizona, which do not observe the change in timekeeping and remain on Standard Time all year. More in Highlights.
The Moon begins the last quarter of its orbit around Earth, rising around 3 am on the morning of the 15th against the stars of Sagittarius the Archer, just above the spout of the "teapot" asterism.
Spring equinox in the northern hemisphere at 2:25 pm PDT/5:25 pm EDT. More spring things can be found in Highlights.
New Moon marks the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Sighting of the first crescent after new is possible on the 22nd throughout the Americas, western Europe, much of Africa, and parts of the Middle East.
Moon at first quarter, visible nearly straight overhead at sunset. After dark, look for the stars of the asterism known as the Winter Hexagon surrounding it.
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