Geminid meteor shower

Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski

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Know what's up. The Morrison Planetarium's Skywatcher's Guide is a quarterly compendium of heavenly happenings.

July 4

Because Earth's orbit around the Sun is not circular but elliptical, there are points where it's closer to and farther from our star. On this day, it's at the far point, or aphelion—a distance of 1.01672 AU (94,554,960 miles, or 152,508,000 kilometers), compared to an average distance of 1.00 AU (93,000,000 miles, or 150,000,000 kilometers).

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July 6

Moon reaches the first quarter, completing 25% (the first quarter) of its orbit around Earth since the last new phase. We see one half of its Earth-facing side in direct sunlight, which reveals, among others, the Sea of Serenity, the Sea of Tranquility, the Sea of Fertility, and the Sea of Crises.

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July 13

Full Moon, known to Indigenous Americans by various names including the Buck Moon and the Thunder Moon (both from the Algonquin), the Crane Moon (Choctaw), and the Raspberry Moon (Ojibway/Chippewa). This is when the Moon is opposite the summer Sun, which arcs high across the heavens. In contrast, the path of summertime full Moons is low to the south.

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July 20

Moon at last or third quarter—these are interchangeable terms since they refer to the fact that the Moon has just completed the third quarter of its orbit since the new phase and is beginning the last quarter.

Also, this is the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon's Sea of Tranquility, about which you can discover a little more in Highlights.

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July 28

Today's New Moon provides a dark night sky for viewing the peak of the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower. Is this a major or minor display? Find out in Highlights.

Visual sighting of the youngest crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Muharram, the first month in the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting may be possible—though, as always, quite challenging—just after sunset on July 29.

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August 5

The Moon reaches its first quarter phase while below the horizon. The next time we see it, it's rising around 2 pm local time, and at nightfall, it's low in the southwest, located between the Zodiacal constellations Virgo the Maiden and Libra the Scales.

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August 11

Native Americans gave the eighth full Moon of the year nature-based names that included the Sturgeon Moon and the Green Corn Moon (both used by the Algonquin), the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway/Chippewa), and the Time When the Cherries Are Ripe (Cheyenne).

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August 12

Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, usually one of the year's best—but are this year's conditions ideal for observing? Find out in Highlights.

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August 18

The last quarter Moon rises around midnight against the stars of Taurus the Bull, very close to the red planet Mars, with the Pleiades star cluster just a few degrees to its left.

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August 27

New Moon. Sighting of the earliest crescent following this new phase marks the start of Safar, the second month in the lunar-based Islamic calendar. This should be possible soon after sunset on the 28th.

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September 3

The Moon reaches first quarter, rising around 3 pm local time and located due south at sunset. At nightfall, look nearby for the bright reddish star Antares (the heart of Scorpius the Scorpion).

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September 10

The Full Moon rises in the east shortly after sunset near Jupiter. People of the Indigenous Haida Nation named the full Moon nearest the fall equinox the Salmon Spawning Moon, and the Nez Perce of the Pacific Northwest similarly used it to mark Spawning Salmon Time. Nebraska's Ponca tribe knew it as the Moon when the Elk Bellow, and the Micmac of the Northeast dubbed it the Moose-Calling Moon.

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September 17

Last quarter Moon rises at midnight, crossing from the stars of Taurus the Bull into Gemini the Twins.

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September 22

Autumnal equinox at 6:04 pm PDT. Some fun facts in Highlights.

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September 25

New Moon, when the Moon and the Sun are in the same direction and not visible. Sighting of the first sliver of a crescent marks the start of Rabi' al-Awwal, the third month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This might be visible after sunset on the 26th in the western parts of South America from Colombia to northern Argentina, and from the rest of the world on the 27th.

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