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Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski
Morrison Planetarium's guide to the skies for January through March 2017.
Peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower, which actually lasts from December 28-January 7 but has a short, sharp peak lasting only several hours during the early hours of the 3rd that can produce up to 60 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. This year's peak is accompanied by a waxing crescent Moon that sets before midnight and which therefore shouldn't interfere with viewing between midnight and the start of morning twilight.
Earth at perihelion (closest to the Sun). Notice how this is occurring during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, showing that weather is the result of a more complex relationship than Earth's distance from the Sun. Rather, it's due to the angle and duration of sunlight striking the planet's surface.
Starting from new, the Moon completes the first quarter of its orbit around Earth. As we see it in the sky, it's visible in the south at sunset, and half of its Earthward face is lit by the Sun, with the terminator (the line dividing day from night on its surface) running straight down the middle. That's where the Sun is at a very low angle, casting long shadows that make the Moon's rugged surface relief stand out.
Full Moon rises at sunset against the faint stars of the Zodiacal constellation Cancer the Crab. Since it's opposite the Sun in the sky, its entire Earthward face is illuminated by sunlight, so from our viewing angle, virtually no shadows are seen and the Moon's surface looks flat and almost two-dimensional. January's full Moon was called the "Cooking Moon" (Choctaw), the "Hunger Moon" (Osage), and the "Moon of Frost in the Teepee" (Lakota Sioux).
Moon at last quarter phase, occurring when the Moon is below the horizon. When the Moon rises at about 1:00 am PST against the stars of Virgo the Maiden, notice that it's lit from one side only.
New Moon just before midnight in the Pacific time zone and during the early morning hours of the 28th for time zones eastward. Sighting of the first visible crescent after new marks the start of Jumada al-Oola, which is the fifth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting may be possible from the West Coast just after sunset on the 28th and more easily from the rest of the world on the 29th.
This sighting is also used to mark the Lunar New Year in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, and Vietnam. Timed with the second new Moon after the Winter solstice, this occurs just before the farming season begins, and so was also called the "Spring Festival."
Groundhog Day - a cross-quarter day, marking the approximate halfway point between the December solstice and the March equinox. For more, see the Notes for Winter.
Moon at first quarter, rising shortly before noon PST, with only the sunward half of its Earth-facing side visible. At sunset, it's high in the south, and after dark, the sparse stars of Aries the Ram surround it.
Full Moon rises at sunset against the stars of Leo the Lion. After dark, the bright star Regulus (the Lion's heart) can be seen nearby. This Moon was traditionally known to Native Americans as the "Elder Moon" (Haida), the "Chestnut Moon" (Natchez), and the "Moon When the Ducks Come Back to Hide" (Ponca).
The Moon passes through the outer portion of Earth's shadow, or penumbra, causing a penumbral lunar eclipse, but because this part of the shadow is very pale, the eclipse is subtle and best-appreciated in photography. For observers on the West Coast, maximum eclipse occurs at 4:45 pm PST, about an hour before the Moon rises, so the Moon will be exiting the penumbra by that time it's above the horizon. Weather and sharp eyesight permitting, eclipse-watchers on the East Coast will be able to see the event from beginning to end.
Last quarter Moon, rising that evening just after midnight, crossing from Scorpius the Scorpion into the stars of Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer.
The New Moon is lined up with the Sun against the stars of the constellation Aquarius the Water-Carrier (that is, if you could see the Sun and the stars at the same time). Usually, the Moon passes slightly above or below the Sun, missing it, but this time, the alignment is perfect, resulting in an annular solar eclipse. See Notes for more information.
First sighting of the thin crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Jumada-at-Thania, the sixth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This sighting is possible on the 27th.
Moon at first quarter after it sets at 3:32 a.m. PST in the morning. When we see it again, rising a little after noon on the 6th, only half of its Earth-facing side will be illuminated by the Sun. It is now said to be "waxing," meaning that for the next week, it grows fuller as gradually more of its visible surface is being illuminated by sunlight.
Most of the United States switches from Standard Time to Daylight Time at 2:00 a.m., when clocks are adjusted forward one hour. Daylight Time will last through November 5, totaling 238 days - or 65% of the year during which clocks will not reflect solar time. We lose an hour of daylight in the morning but gain an hour at the end of the day, allowing people to stay out when springtime weather is usually comfortable and more conducive to outdoor activities.
Today's Full Moon was dubbed the "Worm Moon" (Algonquin), the "Dusty Moon" (Cheyenne), and "Flower Time" (Nez Perce). To the Micmac, it was the "Spring Moon." Go figure.
Spring equinox at 3:29 a.m. PDT, considered the first day of spring by common usage. This is the halfway point between the solstices, and one of two days that the Sun rises due east and sets due west. However, it's not really when day and night are of equal length. To find out why, see the Notes for this season.
Moon at last quarter, high in the south at sunrise against the stars of Sagittarius the Archer, lit from its left-hand side.
New Moon. sighting of the first crescent of this lunation marks the start of Rajab, the seventh month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting may be possible from the West Coast just after sunset on the 28th and more widely across the world on the 29th.
Created by Morrison Planetarium staff, these go-to resources cover events occurring between January and March 2017.
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