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.

October 1

Full Moon. As the full Moon nearest to the September equinox, this is also known as the Harvest Moon. Other names given to October's full Moon by indigenous Americans include the Blackberry Moon (Choctaw), Falling Leaves Time (Nez Perce), and the Time of Poverty (Mohawk). But wait...isn't the Harvest Moon usually in September? Find out what's going on in Highlights.

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October 9

Last quarter Moon occurs at 5:39 pm PDT, when the Moon is below the horizon. When we next see it, the Moon rises around midnight against the stars of the Zodiacal constellation Gemini the Twins. It's very high in the south at sunrise on the 10th and sets around 3:00 pm in the afternoon usually escaping many people's notice, because they're not accustomed to thinking about seeing the Moon during the daytime.

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October 13

Mars at opposition, rising at sunset and seen at its apparent largest and brightest against the stars of Pisces the Fishes. For more details, see Highlights.

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October 16

New Moon. Observation of the first thin, visible crescent marks the start of Rabi' al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. This challenging sighting is expected to be possible just after sunset on the 17th in most of the US, Central and South America, and much of Africa. Over about the next two weeks, as its phase grows toward full, the Moon is said to be waxing.

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October 20-21

Peak of the annual Orionid meteor shower, which averages 15-20 meteors per hour. Details and observing tips are in Highlights.

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October 23

Since the 16th—the last time it was new and located between Earth and the Sun—the Moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit, hence the name of its phase at this time. When it rises in the afternoon, we see half of its Earth-facing side lit by sunlight. It's low in the south-southeast at sunset against the stars of Capricornus the Sea-Goat and sets shortly after midnight.

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October 31

Does this spooky Halloween night's full Moon look blue? It shouldn't, but that's what a lot of people are calling it—a blue Moon. Find out why in Highlights!

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November 1

After seven months and 24 days (or 65 percent of the year), Daylight Time ends at 2:00 am, and clocks throughout most of the United States are turned back one hour. The 1:00-2:00 am hour thus repeats, and we gain an hour of sleep-time...but only for one night.

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November 8

Moon at last quarter at 5:46 am. In the Pacific time zone, this is about an hour before dawn, when the Moon is very high toward the south, located on the border between the constellations Cancer the Crab and Leo the Lion.

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November 14

New Moon. Sighting of the first thin crescent after new marks the start of Rabi al-Thani, the fourth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar (also known as Rabi' al-Akhir.) This observation is difficult because the very thin crescent can be easily washed from view by twilight, but it might be possible just after sunset on the 15th under ideal conditions in the western portions of Mexico, Central America, and South America. It will be easier across the world on the 16th, when the Moon is slightly wider and 12 degrees higher in the sky.

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November 16-17

Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower, averaging about 10 meteors per hour as seen from dark locations. Will we be able to see it? Find out about viewing prospects in Highlights.

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November 21

Moon at first quarter at 8:45 pm PST, when the Moon is descending in the southwest against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier, setting shortly before midnight.

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November 30

Full Moon, at 1:30 am PST, when the Moon is high overhead against the stars of Taurus the Bull. Indigenous Americans also named this the Beaver Moon (Algonquin), the Bison Moon (Natchez), the Freezing Moon (Cheyenne), and the Sassafras Moon (Choctaw).

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs as the full Moon passes through the very faint outer portion of Earth's shadow. Will you see it? Details in Highlights.

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December 7

Moon at last quarter at 4:37 pm PST, when the Moon is still below the horizon. When it rises later that evening around midnight, it's located between the stars of Leo the Lion and Virgo the Maiden.

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December 13-14

Peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, which some consider the year's best. Observing tips in Highlights.

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December 14

New Moon. Sighting of the first visible crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Jumada al-awwal, the fifth month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible across wide portions of the Americas and Africa just after sunset on the 15th.

A total solar eclipse occurs, cutting across South America. Details are in Highlights.

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December 21

Winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Fascinating solstice facts can be found in Highlights.

Halfway between new and full, the Moon rises around noon and reaches first quarter at 3:41 pm PST. By sunset, it's high in the south-southeast, and it sets at about midnight.

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December 29

Full Moon, also known to Native Americans as the "Big Freezing Moon" (Cheyenne), the "Moon of the Popping Trees," (Lakota Sioux), and the "Baby Bear Moon" (Osage). Rising at sunset, it can be seen surrounded by the bright stars of the Winter Hexagon after dark.

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