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 6

New Moon occurs at 4:05 am PDT (7:05 am EDT), starting a new cycle of phases, or lunation. New Moons don't always cause solar eclipses, because even though the Moon is between us and the Sun, the alignment isn't precise enough for its shadow to fall upon Earth.

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October 12

Moon at first quarter phase, located due south at sunset, lit from the right-hand side as we see it in the sky from the Northern Hemisphere.

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October 20

Full Moon 7:57 am PDT (10:57 am EDT). Also known to indigenous Americans as the Falling Leaves Moon (Ojibway), the Blackberry Moon (Choctaw), and the Big Moon (Tlingit). One name from various tribes that remains in current usage is the Hunter’s Moon, and you can find out why it's called that in Highlights.

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October 21

Peak of the annual Orionid meteor shower, averaging 10-20 meteors per hour under ideal conditions...but are this year's conditions ideal? More information in Highlights.

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October 28

Moon at third (or last) quarter phase at 1:05 pm PDT (4:05 pm EDT), when it's still below the horizon. The Moon is not visible until it rises a little after midnight in Cancer the Crab, illuminated from its trailing side.

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November 4

New Moon. In the next few nights, watch as the Moon becomes progressively more visible, appearing as a widening (waxing) crescent that climbs 12 degrees farther out of the Sun's glow each day. In some interpretations, the crescent Moon represents the bow of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt.

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November 7

Daylight Time ends at 2 am in all time zones, but some parts of the US can ignore this change. Find out where—and why—in Highlights.

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November 11

First quarter Moon at 4:46 am PST (7:46 am EST), rising at midday and visible in the south at sunset. As the sky darkens, look for the bright planet Jupiter nearby.

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November 17

Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower, which averages a fair 10-15 meteors per hour under dark conditions. Historically, however, this shower is famous for producing record-breaking "storms" which you can find out more about in Highlights.

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November 19

Full Moon at 12:58 am PST (3:58 am EST). Indigenous Americans and colonial settlers referred to this Moon by names associating it with events in nature or culture, such as the Trading Moon or the Freezing Moon (Cherokee), the First Snow Moon (Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican), and Every Buck Loses His Horns Moon (Oto).

This full Moon passes through Earth's shadow, causing a partial lunar eclipse, ideally timed for observers on the West Coast, and it comes so close to being a total lunar eclipse. Find out how close and more about timings in Highlights.

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November 27

The Moon rises around local midnight against the stars of Leo the Lion and reaches the last quarter phase about three hours before dawn.

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December 3

Just two weeks after the lunar eclipse of November 19, today's New Moon slides precisely between Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow onto our planet and causing a total solar eclipse over certain areas. Find out where in Highlights.

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December 10

The Moon reaches its first quarter at 5:36 pm PST (8:36 pm EST). The line between day and night (the terminator) runs straight down the center of the Moon's disk.

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December 13-14

Peak of the Geminid meteor shower, considered the most reliable display of the year, although they're not as well-known as the Perseids of August, as explained in Highlights.

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December 18

Indigenous Americans called December's full Moon the Snow Moon (Cherokee), the Cold Moon (Algonquin), and the Baby Bear Moon (Osage). This occurs at 8:36 pm PST (11:36 pm EST), but to casual observers, the Moon looks full the day before and after, when the amount of shadow along its edge is barely visible.

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December 21

The Winter solstice occurs at 7:59 am PST (10:59 am EST). Winter begins in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, it's the start of Summer. More in Highlights.

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December 22

The annual Ursid meteor shower peaks before dawn. A moderate display, this shower averages 10 meteors per hour under ideal conditions, but is notable for the fact that it peaks close to the December solstice. Named after the constellation Ursa Major the Great Bear, its meteors seem to radiate from a point just off the bowl of the Big Dipper.

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December 26

The final last quarter Moon of the year occurs at 6:24 pm PST (9:24 pm EST), when the Moon is below the horizon for the West Coast. When it rises around 12:30 am local time tomorrow morning, it's located against the stars of Virgo the Maiden.

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