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.

July 1

The Moon reaches its last quarter phase at 2:11 pm PDT, when it's below the horizon. By the time it rises at 1:25 am on the 2nd, it is on the border between Pisces the Fishes above and Cetus the Sea Monster below.

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July 5

Earth at aphelion (farthest from the Sun), at about 94.5 million miles, or 152 million kilometers. Compare that to its perihelion (nearest) distance of 91.4 million miles, or 147 million kilometers, in January.

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July 9

New Moon at 6:17 pm PDT. This is the start of a new lunar phase cycle, or lunation, when the Moon is in the same direction as the Sun in our sky. As it slowly becomes visible during the next couple of evenings, sighting of the first young, very thin crescent marks the start of Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting should be possible—although challenging in the glow of twilight—just after sunset on the 11th.

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July 17

The Moon reaches its first quarter, having traveled a quarter of the way around Earth since the new phase (see July 9). As seen in the sky, it is located toward the south at sunset and sets around 1 am local time, nestled between the stars of Virgo the Maiden and Libra the Scales.

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July 23

Indigenous Americans gave Julyʼs Full Moon various names including the Blueberry Moon or Raspberry Moon (Ojibwe), the Honey Bee Moon (Mahican), or the String Bean Moon (Oneida). It rises at sunset against the stars of the Zodiacal constellation Sagittarius the Archer.

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July 31

At dawn, the Moon is high in the south, completing the third quarter of its orbit since new on July 9 and beginning the last quarter. Hence, the two terms are interchangeable for this phase, when itʼs half-lit from the left-hand side, as seen from Earthʼs northern hemisphere.

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August 8

New Moon, starting a new lunation at 6:50 am PDT. Sighting of the first visible crescent marks the start of Muharram, the first month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This is a difficult sighting because the low, thin crescent can easily be washed from view by the glow of sunset, but it may be possible on the 9th in much of North and South America, all of Africa, and—under perfect conditions—parts of Europe and the Middle East.

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August 12

Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, peaking overnight on August 12-13. More details can be found in Highlights.

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August 15

The Moon reaches its first quarter, displaying the Sea of Serenity, the Sea of Tranquility, the Sea of Fertility, and the Sea of Crises on the eastern half of its Earth-facing side. It rises around 2 pm local time, is visible in the south at sunset, and sets around 1 am.

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August 22

Augustʼs full Moon is also known by seasonally relevant names given to it by Indigenous Americans, including the Fruit Moon (Cherokee), the Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), and the Sturgeon Moon (Algonquin). This is also a blue moon, but probably not the kind you might be thinking of. Find out why in Highlights.

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August 25

First day of Summer...on Mars. The Red Planetʼs orbital period (year) is 687 days, or nearly twice as long as Earthʼs. Its seasons are correspondingly nearly twice as long as ours, with summer in the Martian northern hemisphere lasting until February 24, 2022.

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August 30

The Moon is at last quarter when it rises at midnight on the 29th-30th against the stars of Taurus the Bull, not far from the bright, reddish star Aldebaran.

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September 6

Sighting of the first young crescent after todayʼs new Moon marks the start of Safar, the second month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This challenging sighting is possible just after sunset on the 7th from Central America and northwestern South America, and more widely across the globe on the evening of the 8th.

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September 13

The Moon is at first quarter and located due south at sunset. Visible on the illuminated half of its Earth-facing side are the dark patches known as the Sea of Serenity, the Sea of Tranquility, the Sea of Fertility, the Sea of Nectar, and—near the edge—the isolated Sea of Crises.

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September 20

Names given by Indigenous Americans to the full Moon of September include the Mulberry Moon (Choctaw), the Moose-Calling Moon (Micmac), and the Moon When the Elk Bellow (Ponca). As the full Moon closest to the September equinox, this is commonly referred to as the Harvest Moon. Why it's called that is explained in Highlights.

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September 22

September equinox at 12:21 pm PDT, marking the start of autumn (somewhere...find out where in Highlights).

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September 28

The Moon reaches last quarter when it's still below the horizon. When we finally see it rising around midnight, it's surrounded by the stars of Gemini the Twins.

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Cosmic lectures

The Benjamin Dean lecture series brings the world's leading experts in astronomy, astrophysics, and more to the Academy's Morrison Planetarium. Stay tuned—lectures are coming back in a virtual format this June!