While the Perseid meteor shower is probably the most famous, the Geminid meteor shower often rivals it in number of brilliant meteors. Unfortunately, since the weather is much colder in December in the Northern Hemisphere, the Geminids don’t get quite the level of respect they should. If the weather is mild where you are or you can view stars from inside your house, I highly encourage you to watch out for this shower. Even from my city dwelling home I spotted two meteors during last year’s peak from my window while just taking an hour peek before bed.This shower is visible all across the globe… so to my Southern Hemisphere people, this is the perfect time to star gaze in the Summer.
WHEN is it?
The meteor shower goes from about December 4th through the 17th. But its peak is on December 14th so be sure to watch as close to Wednesday morning as you can. Now as far as when is the best time of night to watch… you are looking for when the constellation is highest in the sky which is around 2am. If you are not a night owl, you can try closer to 11pm/midnight on the 13th; the constellation should be high enough in the sky for you to see some meteors (this is when I typically check them out). Also it is a full Moon (wah wah) so there is no avoiding the Moon’s light but it does lend this year’s shower to favor times later in the night when the Moon is lower in the sky…. I am still going to give the 11pm watch a shot though!
WHERE should you look?
As you can tell by the name, Gemini is the constellation these are close to. If you are watching at the peak time, you don’t need to find the constellation because the entire sky is fair game then but if you are like and want to watch it at a different time you will need to look in the general direction of the constellation. The particular radiant point is out of Castor’s shoulder, but if you find the constellation that should be good enough. If you aren’t that familiar with the sky, don’t worry; you can use an app (like the one I suggested). Pick a star in the constellation and use the app to figure out where the constellation is. You can even figure out when it rises and sets. If you use the app I do, make sure you turn on sky object trajectories and use that as a guide for where the star (or constellation) will be and at what time. It should be on automatically, but in case it is not, it is the button on the upper right of the settings (as shown on the right). Also remember that it is always a good idea not to stare at the exact same constellation all night. Let your eyes wander; where you will see the meteor isn’t an exact science. Sometimes it is helpful to keep your eyes active by looking somewhere else and coming back. These meteors do stray pretty far from the constellation, but if you were to trace their streaks you would find they all originate from the point in Gemini.
WHAT are the meteors made of?
The shooting stars you see are actually not remnants of a comet like most meteor showers. These remnants are from an asteroid that crosses the Earth’s orbit path. We have asteroid 3200 Phaethon to thank for leaving bits of debris behind that burn up in our atmosphere and produce a magnificent light show.
If you don’t feel like watching them real time or are having weather issues check out Slooh’s live broadcast on December 13th 8:00 pm EDT (00:00 14/12 GMT).
Next on the Lineup: The Quadrantids January 4th