Huestis: Geminid Meteor Shower Mooned Out & Other Celestial Happenings
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Usually my December column highlights the best meteor shower of the year — the Geminids. Unfortunately the peak of this shower on the night of December 13-14 coincides with the Full Moon this year. While the Geminids are fairly bright and also have a reputation for producing exploding meteors called fireballs, the region of the sky from where the meteors appear to radiate is near Gemini’s brightest stars, Castor and Pollux. Regrettably the brilliant Moon will be in the neighboring constellation Taurus.
While you may still catch a glimpse of a couple of Geminids as they enter our atmosphere at 21.75 miles per second, we’ll be lucky to see a handful of the normal 60+ meteors per hour. If the skies remain clear you could take a few minutes to see if any bright meteors overcome the Moon’s brilliance. Otherwise you can wait until the Quadrantids on January 3-4.
On the evening of December 2 just after sunset take a look towards the western sky. A waxing crescent Moon will be just less than ten degrees to the right of brilliant Venus. On the following evening the Moon will be directly above Venus and separated by about six degrees. Send an image of this beautiful sky scene to me at [email protected]
Four days later an interesting occultation occurs. As the Moon slides eastward (12 degrees per day) across the sky, it often passes in front of bright stars and planets. During the late afternoon of the 6th our solar system’s outer most distant planet Neptune will be occulted by the First Quarter Moon. A telescope is required to view this event. Unfortunately from here the disappearance of Neptune behind the Moon’s dark limb/edge (left) at around 4:15pm will not be seen as the Sun will be setting at the same time. The sky will be too bright to discern Neptune. However, when Neptune reappears along the bright limb of the Moon at around 5:35pm telescopic observers will be able watch its return. Neptune is faint and small, but you will be able to determine you’ve seen this distant world because of its blue-green hue. This occultation is well-placed in the sky with the event occurring about 40 degrees above the southern horizon.
Have you ever seen the planet Mercury? During the first three weeks of December you can find the solar system’s inner most planet low in the western sky after sunset. At mid-month Mercury will be at its highest position above the horizon, just less than seven degrees. A fist held at arm’s length covers ten degrees in the sky. So you’ll require a decent treeless view towards the southwestern sky. After mid-month Mercury will quickly sink back towards the horizon and eventually disappear into a bright twilight sky. Its conjunction with the Sun is on the 28th.
The Moon has occulted Taurus the Bull’s bright star Aldebaran several times this year. And we have another such event visible on the night of December 12, beginning just before midnight in southern New England. At approximately 11:17pm the dark limb (left side) of a waxing gibbous Moon will occult (pass in front of) Aldebaran, For about one hour and fourteen minutes the star will remain hidden behind the Moon. At approximately 12:31am Aldebaran will emerge along the Moon’s bright limb (right side). Occultations by the Moon are always fascinating to watch, as one can often see the occulted object blinking in and out from behind lunar mountains or crater rims.
Furthermore, don’t forget that the Winter solstice begins at 5:44am on the 21st. Notice how low an arc the Sun travels across the sky. After this date and time the Sun’s arc will rise higher and higher each day as it appears to travel northward in our sky, reaching the Vernal Equinox (Spring) on March 20, 2017. The apparent shift of the Sun’s position in the sky is the result of the Earth’s fixed axial tilt of 23.5 degrees as it revolves around the Sun. See my column Reason for the Seasons to refresh your knowledge on this topic.
Also, as we approach the holiday season, many folks ask me about the mystery of the Christmas Star. An unabridged version of my latest treatise on this topic can be found on the Skyscrapers website for your examination.
As I write this column early in November, once again we have had temperatures well above normal. However, winter will soon be upon us and colder weather patterns may blanket the area with snow. But as long as grounds at the local Rhode Island observatories are accessible, the telescopes will be available for you to explore “deep sky” objects within the brightest constellations of the night sky. Knowledgeable sky interpreters will be on hand to introduce you to a variety of celestial wonders. Be sure to visit each website prior to setting out for a field trip to these facilities, as wintry conditions can force unexpected closures.
Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open to the public every clear Saturday night. However, in December Seagrave will only be open on the 3rd and 17th. Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every clear Tuesday night. The Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick is open every clear Wednesday night. Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown is open every clear Friday night year-round.
Great American Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017. Countdown: 262 days as of December 1, 2016.
Happy holidays and clear skies to all.
David A. Huestis
Related Slideshow: 20 Reasons Why Fall in New England is the Best Season - 2016
Grape Season at Newport Vineyards
For wine lovers, this is one of the best times of the year because it's grape season.
There are many great Vineyards around New England but Newport Vineyards tops the list and fall is one of the best times to visit, even if you may need a sweater.
Enjoy the wine.
Wearing Comfy Sweaters while visiting the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary
Listen to the sounds of birds chirping, see the rabits hopping around happily and so much more when you visit the Mass Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary.
You may need a little sweater but you will not regret the walk, or seeing the wildlife.
Fall Ferry Ride to Block Island
Block Island, RI
Start the fall off by sailing away on a ferry to Block Island for the day.
Enjoy the beach, outdoor dining, gift shops or just the views.
International Oktoberfest at Alex & Ani Center
International Oktoberfest will take pace at the Alex & Ani Center in Providence on Saturday, September 24 and 25.
The festival will include seasonal beer, German cuisine and live music.
One of the main events of the fall season in all of New England.
Last Chances for Al Fresco Dining at Boat House Restaurant
The views of Mount Hope Bay are unparalleled. Enjoy some wine with a snack or three while watching the sunset. The chef is known for a well-balanced menu of seasonal treats that uses locally sourced seafood in creative ways.
Celebrate the arrival of fall and sit outside at the Boat House Restaurant.
Leaf Peeping in The Berkshires
Arguably the coolest thing about the fall season is the changing of the leaves. You will want to go up to the Berkshires and stroll through a park or just down a street and take note of all the colors, it's a must do fall activity.
How many colors can you see?
Start of Apple Picking Season at Pippen Orchards
There are not to many better fall family activities then to spend a day picking some apples.
Be sure to make the most out of the start of the fall season when you pick Pippin Orchards apples.
Then bring the apples home to make apple pie, apple sauce, or enjoy as they are.
College Football is Back
Brown, URI, Bryant
Grab your school's sweater, cook some hot dogs in the parking lot and enjoy the game.
Bragging Rights on the Line in Final Tennis Matches
Still owe someone a rematch? or maybe just a match in general.
There is still plenty of great weather left to get the match in and the winner of the match takes home bragging rights which they hold for the entire winter.
Fall Lineup of Beers
Whether it's Octoberfest from Sam Adams or a pumpkin beer from Harpoon or Newport Storm, it's time to get out to your local bar or store and pick up some of the great fall beers on tap or in stock.
The Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston
The best golfers in the world are all in Boston for the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs this Labor Day Weekend.
Defending champion Rickie Fowler will look to repeat while superstars Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day look to take his title.
Last Golf Rounds of the Season at Harbor Lights
Warwick, Rhode Island
Golfers don't put away those clubs just yet. The summer may be nearly over but the fall offers some of the best golf weather of the entire season.
Take advantage of it at the beautiful Harbor Lights golf course in Warwick.
Learning at Plimoth Plantation
The fall season is Plimoth Plantation's busiest time of year and it is a great time to bring the family.
Visit the Wampanoag Homesite, the 17th-Century English Village, Nye Barn, Craft Center, Plimoth Bread Company, Mayflower II, and the Plimoth Grist Mill!
A great way to learn and have fun at the same time.
Cozy Sweaters at Waterfire
Providence, Rhode Island
The evenings do get a bit cooler, however, they are still some of the best nights of the season and the fires are still burning bright in Providence.
Grab your nicest, coziest sweater and head down for an evening of fun, romance and much more.
Every fall for the last 15-16 years, the New England Patriots have entered the season with a chance to win the Super Bowl, in a lot of cases, even favored to win it.
That's pretty cool and is a big reason why fall is the best season in New England.
Although, the first four games of this season may be tricky.
Take a Trip up Mount Mansfield
Visit Vermont and take a gondola up Mount Mansfield. Once you get to the top, look back at the spectacular view. There are not to many views llike it.
For travelers, be sure to bring a jacket.
Last Chance for Outdoor Dining at Caffe Expresso Trattoria
Caffe Espresso Trattoria has been open for over 20 years as a family owned and operated restaurant. Trattoria offfers authentic Italian home cooking.
Star of Pumpkin Picking at Jaswell's Farm
Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.
The fall season is all about pumpkins and pumpkin picking is one of the best fall activities going.
PHOTO: Flickr/Glenn Fleischman
Attend King Richard's Faire
Dive into history at King Richard's Faire, New England's oldest and largest Renaissance Festival and most beloved annual fall event. Dress up, play games and learn alot at a faire that is a great fall event for the entire family.
The Faire starts on September 3 and goes until October 23
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