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.

April 1

The first quarter Moon rises around 12:30 pm PDT and is very high in the sky at sunset. Although we see one-half of the Moon's Earth-facing side directly illuminated by sunlight, it's called a "quarter" because at this time, the Moon has completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, starting from the new Moon of March 24.

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April 7

Full Moon, located opposite the Sun in the sky, rises at sunset and is visible all night. The fourth full Moon of the year is popularly known as the Pink Moon—a name from the Algonquin that comes not from any perceived color of the Moon itself, but rather from that of ground phlox flowers that blossom in the spring. Other names given to it include the Wildcat Moon (Choctaw), the Little Frogs Croak Moon (Oto), and Budding Time (Mohawk).

Since the Vernal Equinox was on March 19, tonight's full Moon is the first one of Spring. By the usual rule, the next Sunday—April 12—is Easter.

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April 12

Easter Sunday. Told you.

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April 14

Moon at last quarter phase. When it rises at about 3:30 am PDT on the morning of the 15th, it's part of a close grouping of Solar System objects spanning 15 degrees that also includes the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.

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April 20

Autumnal equinox (first day of fall) in the northern hemisphere...on Mars.

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April 22

New Moon. Sighting of the first crescent after new marks the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. The Moon isn't far enough away from the Sun for this challenging sighting to be possible until the evening of the 24th.

Because of the new Moon, observing prospects for the annual Lyrid meteor shower are excellent—especially away from city lights—when the display peaks. Find out how best to see them in Highlights.

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April 30

The Moon is at first quarter phase. At sunset, it's very high in the south, nearly overhead. With long, sharp shadows along the terminator (the dividing line between the daytime and nighttime halves of the Moon), it's a dramatic sight through telescopes or binoculars.

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May 2

Today is National Astronomy Day, always planned for a Saturday near the first quarter Moon in either April or May. Even if your local astronomy club, museum, planetarium, or observatory isn't able to host a public star party tonight, you can still observe the Moon on your own through binoculars or a telescope, weather-permitting. See more in Highlights.

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May 6

The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks—one of two displays occurring five months apart that are nevertheless both associated with the same comet. It averages about 20 meteors per hour under ideal conditions, but only a day before full Moon whose bright light will interfere, observers should expect to see far fewer. More details are in Highlights.

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May 7

Although it looked full when it rose at sunset the previous evening, full Moon occurs at 3:45 am PDT, or about two hours before sunrise.The fifth full Moon of the year was dubbed the Flower Moon by the Algonquin. Other indigenous American tribes called it the Time When the Horses Get Fat (Cheyenne), the Deep Water Moon (Kutenai), and variations of the Planting Moon (Cherokee, Dakotah Sioux, Oto, Ildefonso, Taos).

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May 14

The last quarter Moon rises around 2:30 am PDT against the stars of Capricornus the Sea-Goat. At sunrise, it's located in the southeast, surrounded by Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

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May 22

New Moon occurs at 10:39 am PDT, which is too late to allow any chance of seeing the first crescent at sunset. This sighting, which should be possible after sunset on the 23rd, marks the start of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar.

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May 29

Moon at first quarter phase, rising at about 12:30 pm PDT and climbing very high in the southwest by sunset.

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June 5

Full Moon. The sixth full Moon of the year was called the Strawberry Moon (Algonquin and Ojibway), the Moon When Berries are Ripe (Dakotah Sioux), and Ripening Time (Mohawk).

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June 12

Moon at last quarter phase just before midnight tonight in the Pacific Time Zone. When it rises around 2 am PDT on the morning of the 13th, look nearby for the red planet Mars.

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June 20

Summer solstice (for the northern hemisphere) is at 2:43 pm PDT. Some fun solstice facts can be found in Highlights.

The third of this year's six eclipses is an annular solar eclipse which is centered over the other side of the planet, so it's not visible from the US. Details are also in Highlights.

New Moon occurs late tonight. Sighting of the first crescent after new marks the start of Dhul-Quiʼdah, the 11th month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting is difficult, but may be possible just after sunset on the evening of the 22nd.

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June 28

The Moon is at first quarter, located against the stars of Virgo the Maiden. It rises around 2 pm and is high in the south-southwest at sunset, setting around 1 am.

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