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 5

New Moon. For cultures that observe a Moon-based calendar, the first sighting of the youngest crescent after new marks the start of each month. This is a very challenging sighting because the crescent is extremely thin and very low, easily washed from view in the Sun's glare. It's not visible the night of the 5th, but seeing it after sunset on the 6th is a possibility. In the case of the Islamic calendar, this marks the start of Shaban, the eighth month of the year.

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April 12

Moon at first quarter, rising shortly after noon and located high in the south at sunset. After nightfall, the two bright stars seen just north of the Moon are Castor and Pollux, which represent the heads of Gemini the Twins (Pollux is the brighter of the two).

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April 19

The fourth Full Moon of the year was given names by Indigenous Americans that reflect events of the springtime. These names include the Egg Moon and the Sprouting Grass Moon (Algonquin), the Moon of Grass Appearing (Lakota Sioux), and Budding Time (Mohawk). The Moon is nestled between the stars of Virgo the Maiden and Libra the Scales.

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April 21

Easter Sunday. Wait...really? Isn't Easter coming a little late this year? Shouldn't it have been on March 24? Find out why (or why not) in Notes for the Season.

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April 23

The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks during the early hours between midnight and the start of morning twilight, averaging about 10-15 meteors per hour under good conditions. What are the viewing prospects this year? Details in Notes.

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April 26

Moon at last quarter, occurring at 3:18 pm PDT, when the Moon is below the horizon. The Moon rises about 12 hours later, around 3:00 am on the morning of the 27th, against the stars of Capricornus the Sea-Goat.

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May 4

New Moon. This occurs too late in the day for the first crescent to be visible at sunset. This sighting becomes possible on May 5 for observers in the American Southwest, Central America, and countries along the northwestern tier of South America, marking the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. The rest of the world will see it more easily on the 6th.

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May 5

Peak of the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower, which is caused by Earth's passing through dust along the path of Halley's Comet. Averaging about 20 meteors per hour, this display is favored by a new Moon this year, although the southerly location of its radiant in Aquarius the Water-Carrier is more advantageous for observers in the southern hemisphere. For observing tips, see Notes.

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May 11

Today is Astronomy Day! Science museums, observatories, planetariums, and amateur astronomy clubs are celebrating stargazing, and weather permitting, some will observe tonight's first quarter Moon. Find out more about Astronomy Day in Notes.

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May 18

Full Moon, rising at sunset against the stars of Scorpius the Scorpion. To indigenous American tribes who practiced agriculture, the fifth full Moon of the year was known as the Corn Planting Moon (Algonquin), Month of the Planting Moon (Cherokee), Moon to Plant (Dakotah Sioux).

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May 26

Moon at last quarter at 9:33 am PDT, when the Moon is still visible in the daytime sky, low in the southwest. After it sets at 12:53 pm, it's not visible again until it rises at 2:30 am, during the wee hours of the 27th against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier.

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June 3

Today's new Moon is not visible in the Sun's glow, but just after sunset on the 4th, sighting might be possible (although challenging). This would mark the traditional start of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar.

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June 9

Moon at first quarter, rising at 12:29 pm PDT and located high in the southwest at sunset. At nightfall, look just above it for the stars of the Zodiacal constellation Leo the Lion.

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June 17

Full Moon. Coinciding with the seasonal ripening of wild fruit, this full Moon was traditionally known by Indigenous Americans as the Strawberry Moon (Algonquin and Ojibway), and similarly as Berry Ripening Season (Haida) and the Ripening Strawberries Moon (Kutenai).

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June 21

Summer solstice at 8:54 am PDT. By common usage, this is the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. More about this day in Notes.

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June 25

Moon at last quarter, rising around 1:30 am in Pisces the Fishes and located in the southeast at sunrise. Watch it slowly cross toward the west and set at about 1:30 pm.

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