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.

January 2

Earth at perihelion (closest to the Sun), at a distance of 91.4 million miles (147 million kilometers), compared to its farthest distance of 94.5 million miles (152 million kilometers), which it reaches in July. This shows that our planet's distance from its star is not the cause of the seasons.

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January 3

Peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower, with variable rates. Find out why this is one of the better meteor showers of the year in Notes for this season.

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January 5

New Moon occurs at 5:28 pm, PST. The Moon is between Earth and the Sun, its Earth-facing side hidden in shadow.

Passing between Earth and the Sun, the Moon casts its shadow just off Earth's northern edge, causing a partial solar eclipse that blocks only part of the Sun's disk from view. This can be seen from eastern Asia and the northwestern Pacific Ocean, including some parts of the Aleutian chain and southwest Alaska.

First sighting of the youngest crescent after this new Moon traditionally marks the start of Jumada al-Awwal (also called Jumada al-Ula), the fifth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible just after sunset on the 7th, although it's a challenge for inexperienced observers.

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January 13

The Moon is at first quarter, located due south at sunset against the stars of Pisces the Fishes and setting at about midnight. The terminator (the edge of the sunlit portion of the Moon's face) runs straight down the middle of the Moon as seen from Earth.

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January 20

Perigean Full Moon, at 9:16 pm PST, occurring within 24 hours of the Moon's closest approach to Earth (perigee). Expect high tides along the coasts.

Cold, icy winters and the accompanying scarcity of food prompted indigenous Americans to call this the Ice Moon (Ildefonso and San Juan), the Moon of Frost in the Teepee (Lakota Sioux), the Hunger Moon (Osage), and the Big Cold (Mohawk).

This full Moon lines up precisely with Earth and the Sun, this time passing through Earth's shadow and causing a total lunar eclipse. This event is centered over Cuba and is ideally positioned for viewing in its entirety from North and South America. Event times and further details are in Notes.

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January 27

The Moon reaches last quarter at midday, when it's below the horizon. By the time it rises around 1 am early on the 28th, the Moon is located against the stars of Libra the Scales. At dawn, look for it due south. It will be visible during the daytime, descending in the west until it sets at about noon.

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February 4

New Moon. Sighting of the first crescent after new marks the start of the sixth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar, known as Jumada al-thani. This sighting is possible just after sunset on February 6. This new Moon also marks the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated on the 5th (we tell you how to figure that out in Notes).

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February 12

Moon at first quarter, rising shortly after noon and located high in the south at sunset, against the stars of Taurus the Bull. Although 1/11 as bright as a full Moon, even a quarter Moon is bright enough to wash fainter targets from view, so spotting the distant planet Uranus—27 degrees to the west in Pisces the Fishes—may be a challenge.

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February 19

The Full Moon again occurs very near perigee, but even closer than last month, making this the largest full Moon of 2019. Accompanied by large tides along the coasts.

As spring approached, weather grew less frigid and daylight gradually lengthened, so indigenous Americans called this the Snow Moon (Algonquin), the Moon When Trees Pop (Dakotah Sioux), and the Light of Day Returns Moon (Osage).

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February 26

Last quarter Moon rises about 1 am between Scorpius the Scorpion and Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer.

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March 6

New Moon. Sighting of the first crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting is expected to be possible on March 7 for observers in most of the Americas and in western Africa. Look with binoculars very low in the west about 45 minutes after sunset (if you're lucky, you might even glimpse Mercury nearby!)

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March 10

Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 am when most of the country "springs forward," adjusting clocks forward one hour and not setting them back until the first Sunday in November—that's 65 percent of the year that most clocks in the U.S. are ahead of mean solar time.

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March 14

The first quarter Moon occurs during the early hours of the morning, when the Moon is setting with the stars of Orion the Hunter. Lit from one side, it looks a bit like a half-eaten pie—which is sort of fitting for Pi Day, don't you think?

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March 20

Vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun crosses the celestial equator, passing from the southern half of the celestial sphere into the northern half.

Also, the full Moon occurs today. Several groups of indigenous Americans had very similar names for this moon, including the Moon When Eyes Are Sore from Bright Snow (Dakotah Sioux), Moon of Snow-Blindness (Lakota Sioux), and Sore-Eyes Moon (Ponca).

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March 27

The Moon is at last quarter at 9:10 pm, when it's still below the horizon. When it rises at 3 am on the morning of the 28th, it's located against the stars of Sagittarius the Archer, between Jupiter and Saturn.

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