Geminid meteor shower

Geminid meteor shower, 2012 © Mike Lewinski

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The Skywatcher's Guide is the Morrison Planetarium's guide to the skies for January through March 2018.

January 1

This month has two Full Moons—first on the 1st, and the second one 29½ days later, on the 31st. January's full Moon was known to the Dakotah Sioux as the "Moon of the Terrible," to the Choctaw as the "Cooking Moon," and to the Mohawk as "The Big Cold."

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January 2

Earth at perihelion, or nearest to the Sun, at 147,097,233 kilometers, or 91,401,983 miles. So why is it winter in the northern hemisphere if we're closer to the Sun? Find out in the Notes for this season.

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January 3

Peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower, one of the better displays of the year. Although just two days after a full Moon, viewing prospects aren't optimal. For details, see Notes.

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January 8

Last quarter Moon occurs at midday and rises at about midnight against the stars of Virgo the Maiden.

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January 16

New Moon. First sighting of the young crescent after this new moon marks the start of the fifth month of the Moon-based Islamic calendar, Jumada-al-Oola (also known as Jumada al awwal). This sighting will be possible just after sunset on the 18th.

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January 24

Moon at first quarter, having completed the first quarter of its orbit since new Moon on the 16th. Some people think that a quarter Moon is half as bright as a full Moon, since that's when we see half of the Earth-facing side. However, a quarter Moon is actually much fainter—about 9 percent the brightness of a full Moon.

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January 31

The second full Moon of the year was named the "Snow Moon" by the Algonquin, the "Black Bear Moon" by the Kutenai and the Tlingit, and the "Chestnut Moon" by the Natchez. Since this is the second full Moon in January, some called this a "blue Moon"...although some historians say this may not be correct. The explanation is in Notes for the season.

This full Moon also lines up behind Earth and passes through our planet's shadow, causing a total lunar eclipse. Notes has additional information about that, too.

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February 7

Last quarter Moon occurs at 7:54 am, when the Moon is still visible in the daytime sky, lit from its sunward side and setting in the southwest. It rises that evening around 2 am, forming a very pretty trio with Jupiter and Mars.

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February 15

The new Moon is positioned between Earth and the Sun, but not precisely enough so that its shadow falls onto the surface of our planet. Rather, the outer edge of the shadow skims Earth's south pole and causes only a partial solar eclipse that's visible from land only from the Patagonia region of South America and Antarctica.

Visual sighting of the first thin crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Jumada al-Thani, the sixth month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible on the 16th from the western & southwestern US, as well as Central America and northeastern South America.

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February 23

Moon at first quarter, rising around noon and located high in the south at sunset. After nightfall, look around it for the stars of Taurus the Bull, most notably the bright, reddish-orange star Aldebaran, the Bull's eye.

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March 1

Full Moon, the third full moon of the year, was also known to the Cherokee as the "Month of the Windy Moon," to the Choctaw as the "Big Famine Moon," and to Lakota Sioux as the "Moon of Snow-Blindness."

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March 9

Last quarter Moon at 3:20 am, when it's located at the middle of a string of worlds in the predawn sky formed by Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.

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March 12

Daylight time begins. Until November 5 (that's 65% of the year), most clocks in the United States are shifted one hour ahead of mean solar time.

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March 17

New Moon. Sighting of the first young crescent after this new Moon marks the start of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar. This sighting is possible from the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East just after sunset on the 18th.

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March 20

Spring equinox for the northern hemisphere is at 9:15 am PST. In the southern hemisphere, this is the beginning of autumn. The Sun rises due east and sets due west, but day and night are not of equal length, as the term suggests. You can find out why in Notes.

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March 24

First quarter Moon rises around 1 pm and is located high in the south at sunset, illuminated from the right-hand side, or from the west, as we look at it from Earth (although from the frame of reference of the lunar surface, the illuminated half is referred to as the Moon's eastern hemisphere).

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March 31

Just like in January, the second full Moon of the month occurs because a full cycle of Moon phases just fits before the month is over. The fourth full Moon of the year was dubbed the "Sprouting Grass Moon," the "Egg Moon," and the "Fish Moon" by the Algonquin, the "Wildcat Moon" by the Choctaw, and the "Little Frogs Croak Moon" by the Oto.

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Planetarium by Night

Planetarium by Night

Morrison Planetarium is open for Thursday NightLife events, featuring special shows and presentations.