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 5

Moon at first quarter, located due south at sunset. After dark, look for the planet Saturn and the stars of Sagittarius the Archer nearby.

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October 8

Summer solstice...on Mars, which takes 687 days to orbit the Sun, compared to Earth's 365, so seasons on the Red Planet are about twice as long as they are for us. The northern hemisphere of Mars is tipped toward the Sun, causing the northernmost sunrises and sunsets and the longest days of the martian year for that half of the planet (in the southern hemisphere, of course, it's winter). The next change in seasons for the Red Planet will occur on April 8, 2020.

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October 13

The first full Moon following September's Harvest Moon is known as the Hunter's Moon—find out why in Highlights. This name comes from the Algonquin, and other names given to this full Moon by indigenous Americans include Falling Leaves Time (Nez Perce), the Time of Poverty (Mohawk), and the Turkeys Moon (Natchez).

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October 21

Moon at last (or third) quarter at 4:51 am PDT. Shortly before sunrise, the Moon is just outside the eastern edge of the Winter Hexagon, near the bright star Pollux. It has just completed the third quarter of its orbit around Earth since the last new Moon and is beginning the last quarter, hence the alternate names.

Also, the Orionid meteor shower peaks this morning. Find out in Highlights what this display has to do with the most famous comet of all.

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October 27

New Moon. Sighting of the first young crescent after this new Moon—which is possible shortly after sunset on the 29th—marks the start of Rabi' al-awwal, the third month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar.

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November 4

The Moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit since new, so that's what its appearance at this time is called, with half of its Earth-facing side lit directly by the Sun and the terminator dividing its daytime and nighttime sides running straight down its center.

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November 11

A rare transit of Mercury occurs as Mercury reaches inferior conjunction and passes directly in front of the Sun's disk—sort of like an eclipse, only Mercury is so far away and tiny against the Sun that it's barely distinguishable from a sunspot. Details in Highlights.

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November 12

The Full Moon rises at sunset against the constellation Taurus the Bull, then makes a high arc across the sky during the night. Indigenous Americans dubbed November's full Moon the Beaver Moon (Algonquin), the Sassafras Moon (Choctaw), and the Freezing Moon (Cheyenne).

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November 17

Peak of the Leonid meteor shower, not usually a strong display, but a historically important one. More in Highlights.

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November 19

The Moon reaches last quarter during the day, when it's below the horizon. When we see it next (rising around midnight), it's located against the stars of Leo the Lion, near the bright star Regulus, which represents the Lion's heart.

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November 26

New Moon, occurs at about 7:00 am. The first thin crescent after new is visible on the 27th for observers in the US, South America, and most of Africa, marking the start of Rabi at-Thani, the fourth month of the Islamic calendar.

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December 3

First quarter Moon occurs at about 11:00 pm PST, when the Moon is about to set in the west-southwest, located against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier.

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December 11

December's full Moon arcs very high across the night sky, in contrast to the Sun at this time, which at the time of the winter solstice follows a very low arc across the sky. Indigenous Americans gave this Moon names reflecting the winter season, such as the Long Night's Moon (Algonquin), the Moon of the Popping Trees (Lakota Sioux), and the Big Freezing Moon (Cheyenne).

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December 14

Peak of the reliable Geminid meteor shower, averaging about 80-100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. To find out whether this year's conditions are ideal, see Highlights.

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December 18

Last quarter Moon is at about 9 pm PST, only a few hours before the Moon rises. When it does, just after midnight, it's located against the stars of Virgo the Maiden.

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December 21

December solstice at 8:19 pm PST. In the northern hemisphere, this is the winter solstice, when the Sun rises and sets farthest south, making a low, short arc across the sky. The reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, where this day is the summer solstice.

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December 25

New Moon at 9:13 pm PST. For the Eastern time zone and beyond, this occurs after midnight and therefore is listed in many calendars as being on the 26th. A solar eclipse occurs as this new Moon passes between Earth and the Sun—but unlike a total eclipse, it doesn't completely hide our star from view. Who will get to see it? Details are in Highlights.

The first thin crescent after new is visible just after sunset on the 27th, marking the start of the fifth month of the Islamic calendar, Jumada al awwal (also Jumada al-Ula).

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