Babe Among The Stars: December's Blue Moon

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Those Elusive Shooting Stars

The predicted great meteor shower of 17 November didn't materialise, at least, I never got any feedback saying they'd seen a wonderful show. I didn't see any either, although I saw a fabulous earthgrazer on 20 November when I wasn't even specifically looking for meteors, I just happened to be opening my front door to let my daughter and grandson out. Just goes to show, best laid plans and all that. There are two meteor showers due in December, so keep your eyes peeled as your chances of spotting some 'shooting stars' are much higher than normal. Some lucky people manage to not only see meteors, they snap them too, and the best get published over at the APOD website, which is worth bookmarking as you never know what's going to feature. Take for example this unusual view of Earth which was taken from the departing Rosetta spacecraft on its way to a close encounter with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. It's not always photos from space, sometimes spectacular space art is used.

Still Waiting for U Scorpii to Erupt

An alert has been issued for amateur astronomers to keep watch on a cataclysmic variable star catalogued U Scorpii, as it is predicted to erupt any time now. U Scorpii's last three eruptions, which occurred in 1979, 1987 and 1999, were noticed first by amateur astronomers. Bradley Schaefer of Sky & Telescope magazine states: 'The upcoming eruption of U Scorpii could produce the best record of a nova outburst — of any kind — ever'. We are still awaiting this eruption, that's why I'm repeating the information from last month. If you're interested enough to join the watch, you'll need to be looking just north of Antares, the unmistakable 1st-magnitude red giant alpha star of Scorpius, the Scorpion.

Galaxy Zoo latest

The Zookeepers have launched a new programme, and it's one I am especially interested in, so I'll be giving it a go. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun, providing you pass the opening test, of course. You shouldn't have any problem though, it's not rocket science (giggle). Load Galaxy Zoo Mergers and sign up or jump right in. Don't forget to let me know how you get on!

Blue Moon Month

This month there are two Full Moons. This is a rare event as the lunar cycle is 29.5 days long, so there's usually one Full Moon per month, 12 a year. The 2nd Full Moon of the same month means it's a 'Blue Moon' according to folklore, although some astronomers insist the explanation of two full moons in one month dubs the second a 'Blue Moon' is a mistake perpetuated through common usage. Blue Moons don't happen every year, for example there will be no Blue Moons in the years 2011, 2014, and 2017, so late December's Blue Moon, occurring on Hogmanay (New Year's Eve), makes it even more special. Of course the Moon doesn't really turn blue, but it is possible to see a blue-tinged moon — however — you'd need specialist equipment. Or, as if you need a reminder, just browse the APOD archive for treasures such as this blue moon.

December Diary Dates

  • 02: Full Moon known as the Cold Moon, Long Nights Moon or the 'Moon before Yule' depending where you are in the world.
  • 04: The Moon will occult (completely cover) delta Geminorum. This star is a binary system with the common name of Wasat.
  • 07: Mars 6° north of Moon
  • 10: Saturn 8° north of Moon
  • 14: Geminids meteor shower maximum
  • 16: New Moon
  • 18: Mercury 1.4° south of Moon
  • 20: Jupiter 0.6° south of Neptune
  • 21: Winter Solstice  (Northern Hemisphere); Summer Solstice (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 21: Jupiter 4° south of Moon
  • 22: Ursids meteor shower maximum
  • 24: Uranus 6° south of Moon
  • 28/29: (between late evening and early hours of the morning) the almost-full Moon will occult the famous star cluster The Pleiades (M45) over the course of several hours.
  • 31: Partial lunar eclipse visible from Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
  • 31: 2nd Full Moon of the month: some would call it a 'Blue Moon'.

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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