The Geminid meteor shower is happening now! Best on the mornings of December 13 and 14. Tips for avoiding moonlight and watching the 2013 Geminids here.
In 2013, we have a bright waxing gibbous moon lighting up the peak nights of the annual Geminid meteor shower. Tonight (night of December 12-13) and tomorrow night should present a decent number of meteors. Which night is better? The forecast calls for tomorrow night (December 13-14) to be the peak night, but the moon will set earlier tonight, giving you more time before dawn for meteor-watching. You might see some meteors in the bright moonlight. But also take advantage of the dark predawn sky windows on Friday and Saturday mornings!
Your goal: to observe a meteor shower. You want to see as many meteors as possible. You want to see the sky rain meteors like hailstones at an apocalyptic rate. You want exploding fireballs, peals of meteoric thunder, celestial mayhem. And it could happen, too, because you read an article online about this meteor shower.
And so here you are. You have your sleeping bag, the requisite thermos of coffee. At any moment, the sky should open up and rain down meteors.
The minutes tick by. Half an hour. An hour. Still you wait. Nothing happens. It’s cold. You’re sleepy. You should be in bed. You don’t even like coffee. Finally, you toss aside the sleeping bag and trudge back inside the house grumbling. Again, you read the date of the peak: “before dawn on December 13 and 14.” Then it hits you. That was yesterday morning. Which brings us to the first rule of meteor shower observing: be sure you know which days the shower will peak. Follow the links inside to learn the top 10 tips for watching meteors!
The solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. In 2013, the December solstice comes on December 21 at 11:11 a.m. CST. That’s December 21 at 17:11 UTC. It’s when the sun on our sky’s dome reaches its farthest southward point for the year. At this solstice, the Northern Hemisphere has its shortest day and longest night of the year.
Menkar ranks as the second-brightest star in the constellation Cetus the Sea-monster, after Diphda (or Deneb Kaitos: Sea-monster’s Tail). All the same, Menkar has been awarded the alpha designation (Alpha Ceti), possibly because Menkar sits closer to the ecliptic – the sun’s yearly circuit in front of the background stars.
In the west after sunset around now, you’ll find a famous asterism – a noticeable pattern of stars, not a constellation – known as the Summer Triangle. It consists of three bright stars in three different constellations. They are Vega in the constellation Lyra the Harp, Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, and Altair in the constellation Aquila the Eagle. It’s called the “summer” triangle, because – for us in the Northern Hemisphere – summer is the season in which these stars soar overhead.
Where do you look to see December’s famous Geminid meteor shower? Simply look in an open sky, in no particular direction. That’s because these meteors fly in many different directions and in front of numerous age-old constellations. But meteor showers do have radiant points. That is, if you trace the paths of the Geminid meteors backward, they all appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini the Twins. Do you need to find Gemini to watch the shower? No, but it’s fun to spot the radiant point in the night sky. Follow the links inside to learn more about the Geminid shower, and its radiant point.
The third-brightest star in Orion, Bellatrix, is often overlooked. And yet Bellatrix is such a wonderful star. The name means “Female Warrior,” which some find odd since the original Arabic title translates as “Conqueror.” But – throughout the world – women understand. Bellatrix represents Orion’s left shoulder. Although it appears only as the 22nd brightest star in our heavens, in reality it is a hot, blue giant some 240 light-years away.
The 2013 Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of December 13-14, though the night before (December 12-13) should offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. The show starts at mid-to-late evening and ends at dawn. The meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night. Don’t let the moonlight discourage you. These meteors are bright! No matter your location, Geminid meteors will fall most abundantly after midnight on December 13 and 14.
This star varies because — although it looks single to the eye — it’s really a binary star, or two stars that revolve around one another. The star is called Sheliak, or Beta Lyrae. It’s a special kind of binary star system, known as an eclipsing binary. One star in the Sheliak system blocks out the light of its companion star in regular periods, as seen from our earthly vantage point. This blocking of one star by the other causes Sheliak’s brightness to dim every 6.5 days.