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.

January 2

Moon at first quarter, visible due south at sunset, with the right-hand half of its Earth-facing side directly illuminated by sunlight. After dark, it's surrounded by the faint stars of the constellations Pisces the Fishes and Cetus the Sea Monster.

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January 3-4

Can we see the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower? Details in Highlights for the Season.

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January 5

Earth at perihelion (closest to the Sun) during the coldest season for the northern hemisphere, showing that the seasons are not caused by Earth's distance from its star but rather by its orientation to the Sun.

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January 10

January's full Moon—which rises at sunset against the stars of Gemini the Twins—was known to the Algonquin as the Wolf Moon. This is the name that most of the media latches onto, but indigenous Americans in other regions had their own names for it, such as the Ice Moon (Ildefonso), the Hunger Moon (Osage), and the Goose Moon (Tlingit).

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs, but it's barely visible as the Moon passes through only the subtle, outermost portion of Earth's shadow—and being centered over the Indian Ocean, it's not visible at all from US locations.

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January 17

Moon at last quarter very early in the morning, when it's located near the bright star Spica in Virgo the Maiden. Located in the south at dawn, the Moon sets at noon.

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January 24

New Moon. In China, a general rule says that the second new Moon after the winter solstice marks the start of the Lunar New Year, the first full day of which is the 25th. In many Asian communities, the new year celebration lasts two weeks, ending with the Lantern Festival and a great parade on February 8.

According to the Moon-based Islamic calendar, sighting of the first crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Jumada al-Thani, the sixth month of the year, and may be possible just after sunset on the 25th from limited parts of the Americas. It's more visible for the rest of the world on the 26th, but is nevertheless a challenging observation, with the super-thin Moon easily obscured by the glow of twilight.

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February 1

First quarter Moon rises in the east around 11:30 am. At sunset, it's high in the south, just inside the border of Aries the Ram, and sets at 1:00 am on the morning of the 2nd.

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February 8

Full Moon, also known as the Snow Moon to the Algonquin, the Black Bear Moon to the Kutenai and Tlingit, and the Chestnut Moon to the Natchez. When it rises at sunset, the Moon is located between the stars of the Zodiacal constellations Cancer the Crab and Leo the Lion.

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February 15

Last quarter Moon occurs at midday, when the Moon is below the horizon. The next time we see it, the Moon rises shortly after 1:30 am tomorrow morning near the stars representing the head of Scorpius the Scorpion.

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February 18

A lunar occultation of Mars occurs before dawn, as the Moon moves between Earth and Mars, briefly hiding the Red Planet from our view. Observers on the West Coast may be able to see the end of this event, when the Moon moves out of the way so we can see that Mars is still there. Details are in Highlights.

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February 23

New Moon is early in the day at 7:32 am PST. Sighting of the first crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar, but this isn't possible until just after sunset on the evening of the 24th, and then only for certain parts of the world, namely most of the Americas and parts of central and western Africa.

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February 29

Today—Leap Day—occurs once every four years (sort of, but it's complicated), when an extra day is added to the calendar. Find out why in Highlights.

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March 2

First quarter Moon occurs at about noon PST, when the Moon is rising in the east. It's high in the south at sunset, nearly overhead, and as the sky darkens, you'll see the stars of Taurus the Bull gradually appear around it, with the bright, reddish star Aldebaran nearby.

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March 8

The second Sunday in March is when daylight time begins, and clocks are moved forward one hour at 2:00 am across the United States (except in Hawaii, other US island territories, and most of Arizona). For the next 238 days, the Sun and clocks don't match up. Daylight time lasts until the first Sunday in November, during which time the Sun and clocks don't match. More in Highlights.

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March 9

Full Moon 10:48 PDT Worm Moon or Crow Moon (Algonquin), Dusty Moon (Cheyenne), Flower Time (Nez Perce), Lizard Moon (San Juan).

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March 16

At 2:34 am PDT, the Moon will complete the third quarter of its orbit around Earth (using new Moon as the beginning) and begins the last Quarter. At that time, as observed from San Francisco, the Moon has just risen in the southeast just inside the border of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer.

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March 18

As detailed in both our Planets and Highlights sections, a beautiful configuration of planets and the Moon takes place this morning, part of a series of beautiful close-encounters between planets and the Moon. This morning's configuration features Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and the waning crescent Moon clustered within eight degrees of each other.

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March 19

Vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere occurs at 8:50 pm PDT. More in Highlights.

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March 24

New Moon 2:28 PDT. Sighting of the first crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Sha'ban, the eighth month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting becomes possible after sunset on the 25th.

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