Let’s go searching for Geminids!

Tonight, December 13, we are in for a special treat from one of the best meteor showers throughout the year: the Geminids!

Well, sort of.

First, the good news:

The Geminids will be visible all throughout the night sky, seeming to originate from the constellation Gemini. This shower is also one of the most spectacular, both due to the number and the fact that it occurs during the cold months, when skies tend to be clearer and more favorable (with the exception noted under “bad news” below) to viewing.

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The Geminids in 2012 – via NASA

Now the bad news:

This is where the exception, or rather exceptions, I mentioned above come in. First, we have a full moon tonight. This one is also a so-called “supermoon”, when the Moon is not only full, but at it’s closest approach to Earth, which means it will be a bit brighter than normal. That means it will be a bit more difficult to see meteors tonight.

Also, if you are in the United States, you’ll be dealing with this:

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Current cloud cover in the US – via Intellicast

Yes, much of the U.S is experiencing at least some cloud cover at the moment, which will not make viewing any easier. Trip to Mexico City, anyone?

A few quick viewing tips:

  • The best viewing time is around 2AM, when their apparent point of origin will be highest in the ski. That said, the show should be good all night long.
  • Dress warmly and bring some coffee, tea, or other hot drink of your choice.
  • Allow your eyes to adjust for a full 20 minutes
  • If you can’t catch them tonight, you should still see a few over the next few nights, as we will be in the Geminid’s path for a few more days.

So get out there, brave the elements, have a good look at that beautiful supermoon, and hope to catch a shooting star or two!

Happy hunting!

Pax.

H/T to NASA, always an excellent source of information.

Persistent Perseids Pierce the Planet

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A Perseid meteor over the Paranal Observatory in Chile. By ESO/S. Guisard [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Unless you live in a big city (or are visiting one in a foreign country), you may have noticed an occasional streak across the night sky late at night or early in the morning. This signals that Earth has begun to cross the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle and we are fast approaching the height of one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year: the Perseids.

This year, however, the show will be extra special, possibly the best in 20 years.

Jupiter has done us a favor this time around, pushing the cometary debris a little closer to Earth. Late at night on August 11th, I highly encourage you to bundle up and head outside. After the moon sets around 1AM, you are in for a spectacular show, if predictions are correct. Astronomers are expecting up to 150 meteors per hour – for those playing the home game, that’s at least two a minute.

Some tips for viewing the meteor shower:

  • The best viewing will be early in the morning, after 1AM when the moon sets.
  • Look towards the northeast, but don’t stay so focused on that point that you lose the rest of the sky.
  • If possible, get away from city lights. I usually go to a campground or a local lake.
  • Bring a jacket so you can bundle up – even if you are in a warm climate, sometimes temperatures at night can get a bit chilly during the summer.
  • Bring a reclining lawn chair or a good blanket to rest on so you can observe comfortably without craning your neck. A sore neck will mean a quick end for your star-gazing.
  • Be patient. I know it’s a weeknight, but try to stay out at least an hour. Not only does this increase your chances of seeing some spectacular sights, it will allow your eyes to adjust fully, which can sometimes take up to 20-30 minutes. Also, the show gets better throughout the early morning.
  • Even though the peak is on Aug. 11/12, the days prior or following should still provide a decent show.
  • Bonus: Bring a good pair of binoculars and see if you can identify any objects in the sky. Mars and Saturn will be in the vicinity of the Moon on August. 11, in the south-southwest sky. That reddish star below Saturn on that night? That will be Antares, one of my favorites to spot.

More information is available from Astronomy Magazine, EarthSky, or any decent Google search.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!