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Huestis: Geminid Meteor Shower Mooned Out & Other Celestial Happenings

Sunday, November 27, 2016

 

I can’t believe I’m writing about astronomical events for December already. Where did 2016 go? Time is flying by so fast that I often feel like I’ve gotten caught in the wake of someone’s time machine, propelling me into the future. But more likely it is an inverse square function of age. Just substitute time for distance in the equation. The older one gets the faster time seems to pass. How many of you can relate to that declaration?

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: 25 Things You Must do This Fall in New England - 2017

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Walk/Jog/Hike Through the Bird Sanctuary

Worcester, MA 

There are some great walking and hiking paths behind the Audubon Society on Massasoit Road in Worcester to visit this fall.

Want to be at peace and escape the city without really leaving the city? Take a brisk walk through the Bird Sanctuary. If you don't feel better by the time you leave there...then turn around and go back in.

The bird sanctuary is located on 414 Massasoit Road in Worcester

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Pumpkin Picking at Jaswell's Farm

Smithfield, RI

The fall season is all about pumpkins. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie and most of all pumpkin picking.

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.

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Attend the Vermont International Film Festival 

Burlington, Vermont

The 2017 Vermont International Film Festival takes place from October 20 to October 29. 

The festival will feature more than 70 films from all over the world as well as panels and discussions. 

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Fall Exhibits at the Boston Children's Museum 

Boston, MA 

The Boston Children's Museum has two special exhibits to celebrate the fall season. 

The first is a dinosaur exhibit titled "Explor-a-saurus," and there is also a "Bubbles" exhibit and a "construction zone."

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a daily basis. 

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Leaf Peeping in The Berkshires

Berkshires, MA

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?

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Attend the Freeport Fall Festival 

Freeport, Maine

The festival will feature more than 130 artists showing off their work ranging from photography oil, watercolor, mixed media and much more.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Enjoy a Glass of Wine at Newport Vineyards

Newport, RI 

Hello grape season! 

It may be getting colder, but for wine lovers, this is the best time of year because it's grape season.

There are many great Vineyards around New England but Newport Vineyards is among the best. 

Enjoy the wine.

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Coppal House Farm

Lee, NH

Not one, not two, but three corn mazes all in one spot. 

The famous triple maze at Coppal House Farm in New Hampshire is fun for all ages!

This year's theme is honey bees for all three mazes.

Built in the mid-1700s, Coppal Farm has horse-drawn carriage rides, pumpkin picking, and tons of other activities on its 78-acre farm.

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Drink a Glass or Two or Three of Apple Cider

Across New England

Nothing says fall like drinking nice warm glass of apple cider, or maybe multiple warm glasses of apple cider.

Head over to your local market and buy some, or maybe you know how to make your own or have your own recipe. Either way, drinking apple cider is something to look forward too.

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Last Golf Rounds of the Year at Harbor Lights 

Warwick, RI 

While it may not be summer anymore and you may need an extra shirt or light jacket, there is still time to get some end of season swings in at your local golf course.

The fall season presents some of the best golfing weather that we have all year in New England.

Hit them straight.

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Take a Trip up Mount Mansfield 

Stowe, Vermont

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 like it. 

For travelers, be sure to bring a jacket.

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Coastal Wine Trail 

Across Southern New England

The Coastal Wine Trail is a nonprofit group of 14 wineries that are spread throughout Southeastern New England. 

Vineyards on the trail include Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston Connecticut, Travessia Winery in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery in Westport, Massachusetts and Coastal Vineyards in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. 

The heart of the trail is less than three hours from New York City and 90 minutes from Bosto

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Visit the Factory of Terror  

Worcester, MA

Check out five attractions at the super spooky Factory of Terror! Clown College, Zella's Hideaway, Zombie Alley, 3D Nightmare and the 13th Haunt all in one place.

This indoor haunted house offers a frightening and spooky experience with realistic, detailed rooms featuring cutting edge special effects and horror creatures at every turn!

Enter at your own risk!

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Last Chance for Al Fresco Dining at Boat House Restaurant 

Tiverton, RI

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 fall season and eat outdoors one last time. 

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Drink a Fall Beer Before They Go Away 

Across New England

The fall selection of beers is unmatched. 

Whether it's Octoberfest from Sam Adams or a pumpkin pie beer from 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.

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Learning at Plimoth Plantation

Plymouth, MA

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.

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Visit the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo

Providence, RI 

The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is a one of a kind fall event taking place at Roger Williams Park Zoo and runs from October 6 - November 6, 2016 and tickets are only sold online.

The display features more than 125 carved pumpkins, featuring designs such as the laughing tree and several others. 

New to this year’s spectacular, Friday – Sunday nights now feature timed ticket entry starting at 5:30 p.m. These tickets will only be sold online.

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Last Chance for Outdoor Dining at Caffe Expresso Trattoria 

Worcester, MA

Caffe Espresso Trattoria has been open for more than 20 years as a family owned and operated restaurant. Trattoria offfers authentic Italian home cooking.

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International Oktoberfest at Bold Point Park 

East Providence, RI 

International Oktoberfest will take place over Columbus Day weekend at Bold Point Park. 

The festival will include seasonal beer, German cuisine, and live music. 

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Ride or Run the East Bay Bike Path 

Barrington, RI 

Put on a comfy sweater and take a fall run or bike ride down this 14.5 mile long path that stretches from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol.

The path connects many towns while providing waterside views nearly the entire way.

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Attend King Richard's Faire 

Carver, Massachusetts

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 ends on October 23. 

Prev Next

Take a Fall Trip to Block Island

Block Island, RI

As the fall season rolls on, trips to Block Island are winding down.

But at the moment, there is still great weather ahead and great opportunities to get on the ferry and head over to Block Island for the day, or maybe even multiple days.

A fall trip to Block Island is something ou must do this fall.

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Westerly Fall Restaurant Week

Westerly, RI 

Restaurants will offer a three course price fixed meal at $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner. 

Participating restaurants include Venice Restaurant and Lounge, Pleasant View Inn, Amigos and more. 

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Book a Weekend Getaway to Twin Farms

Bernard, Vermont 

Take a break, getaway from the daily grind of life and go on a weekend getaway to Twin Farms in Vermont. 

While you are there, there are great opportunities for hiking, biking and just relaxing. 

You will not regret this trip. 

Prev Next

Visit Connecticut's Glass House 

New Canaan, CT 

Construction began on the Glass House in 1949 by architect Philip Johnson and is now a National Trust Historic Site. 

The house is on 49 acres of land which holds 13 other structures and features a collection of 20th century painting and sculpture. 

The foliage surrounding the house makes the fall season a great time to go visit. 

 
 

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