Geminid meteor shower

Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski

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Know what's up. Morrison Planetarium's Skywatcher's Guide is a quarterly compendium of heavenly happenings.

October 2

The first quarter Moon is located due south at sunset. At nightfall, the stars of Sagittarius the Archer surround it (look for the "teapot" asterism).

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October 9

The full Moon rises at sunset against the stars of Pisces the Fishes. Native American names for October's full Moon include the Falling of the Leaves Moon (Ojibway/Chippewa), the Moon When Water Begins to Freeze on the Edge of the Stream (Cheyenne), and Blackberry Moon (Choctaw). A name from the Algonquin that is commonly used today is the Hunter's Moon, which is the first full Moon after the Harvest Moon (which usually occurs in September).

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October 17

The last quarter Moon is not visible during the early evening. When it rises around midnight, it is located against the faint stars of Cancer the Crab.

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October 21

Peak of the medium-strength Orionid meteor shower, coinciding with a waning crescent Moon that is less than 1/50 the brightness of a full Moon, so its light shouldn't interfere with meteor-watching. After midnight, observers away from city lights can expect to see 10-15 meteors per hour radiating from the vicinity of Orion the Hunter, the constellation after which the shower is named.

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October 25

New Moon at 3:49 am PDT. First sighting of the thin, waxing crescent after this marks Rabi' al-thani, the fourth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar. This sighting should be possible just after sunset on the 26th for much of the US and Africa as well as all of South America, but the razor-thin Moon is low and easily lost in the brightness of twilight.

The new Moon moves between Earth and the Sun, causing a partial solar eclipse, but this time the alignment isn't perfect enough to completely hide the Sun from view, and no one on Earth sees a total eclipse. How much of the Sun gets covered depends on observers' locations. More details are in Highlights.

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October 31

Moon reaches the first quarter late tonight, located against the stars of Capricornus the Sea-Goat, with the ringed planet Saturn a little more than 10° degrees to its northeast (that's about the width across the knuckles of your fist held at arm's length).

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November 6

Daylight Time ends in the US at 2 am, when official time in most of the country (except Hawai'i and US territories, as well as most of Arizona) is adjusted back one hour to Standard Time ("spring forward, fall back"). Thus, the 1-2 am hour repeats itself.

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November 7-8

The full Moon slides through Earth's shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse which can be seen from about half the planet, wherever the Moon is visible. This will be visible from San Francisco during the wee hours of the 8th. Details are in Highlights.

November's full Moon also goes by the Native American names Beaver Moon (Algonquin), Sassafras Moon (Choctaw), and Bison Moon (Natchez), among others.

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November 16

The Moon reaches last quarter during the morning hours, located against the stars of Leo the Lion.

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November 17

Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower, which is historically known for meteor storms every 33 years, when its parent comet returns to the inner Solar System. The rest of the time, skywatchers can expect about 10-15 meteors per hour under ideal conditions (very dark sky away from city lights and clear weather), and an even more meager 5 per hour due to moonlight after the wide, waning crescent Moon rises around 1 am.

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November 23

New Moon at 2:57 pm PST/5:57 pm EST. First sighting of the thin crescent Moon in the early evening sky marks the start of Jumada-al-awwal (also called Jumada-al-Oola). This is the fifth month of the Islamic calendar, and this sighting is largely limited to observers in most of South America on November 24 and more easily for the rest of the world on the 25th.

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November 30

The Moon reaches the first quarter at 6:36 am PST, when it's still below the horizon. The next time we see the Moon is when it rises a little after midnight against the stars of Aquarius the Water-Carrier.

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December 7

Full Moon. Native American names include the Cold Moon and Long Night's Moon (Algonquin), the Big Freezing Moon (Cheyenne), and the Moon of the Popping Trees (Lakota Sioux).

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December 14

Peak of the Geminid meteor shower, an annual favorite when favored by ideal conditions (dark location away from city lights, moonless night), producing up to 80 meteors per hour, but this year's peak coincides with a waning gibbous Moon whose bright light reduces the number by about half. This display is one of the few major showers whose radiant near the star Castor in Gemini the Twins (the constellation that the shower is named after) is above the horizon early in the evening, rising about three hours after sunset.

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December 16

The last quarter Moon rises at about 1 am on the night of the 15th-16th against the stars of Virgo the Maiden.

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December 21

Winter solstice for the northern hemisphere at 1:48 pm PST, and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed. More solstitial seasonings in Highlights.

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December 22

Peak of the Ursid meteor shower, which radiates from the stars of Ursa Minor the Lesser Bear. The light of a waning crescent Moon will not interfere, which is good because this is a minor display that averages 5-10 meteors per hour.

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December 23

New Moon at 2:17 am PST. Sighting of the first, young crescent Moon marks the start of Jumada al-thani, the sixth month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting should be possible after sunset on the 24th.

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December 29

The first quarter Moon is located high in the south-southeast at sunset. How soon after sunset can you spot Jupiter to its right?

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