Tonight and tomorrow night – Friday and Saturday, December 12 and 13 – are the peak nights of 2014’s Geminid meteor shower. The best viewing hours are typically in the wee hours after midnight. This meteor shower often rates as one of the best – if not the best – shower of the year. There’s a waning moon in the sky in 2014, and it will dampen the show some. But Geminid meteors are bright, and some will shine past the moon’s brightness.
You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. Tips for getting the most from the Geminid meteor shower … or any meteor shower.
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.
Tonight and for the next few nights, as seen from around the world, the waning gibbous moon and Jupiter are close together and the brightest objects in your sky from late evening on. They are beautiful! Look outside late, say around midnight, on the evenings of December 10, 11 or 12 2014. You can’t miss them. They’re the brightest things up there!
Tonight – December 9, 2014 – if you stay up at least until mid-evening, you can catch the dazzling planet Jupiter at a turning point in its year. On December 9, Jupiter is said to appear stationary in front of the constellation Leo the Lion. That means it begins its retrograde motion in front of the stars. And that means the best time for watching Jupiter is here! It’ll be easiest to spot in our sky over the coming months. Tonight – and for the next several nights – the moon is near Jupiter in the sky. Let the moon show you Jupiter tonight, then enjoy it for months to come.
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.
Tonight – December 8, 2014 – the big and bright waning gibbous moon shines directly in front of the constellation Gemini the Twins, the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower. Gemini’s two brightest stars are Castor and Pollux. The star Castor nearly aligns with the radiant point of the Geminid meteor shower, which is going on right now and is expected to peak in activity on the nights of December 12-13 and, especially, December 13-14.
The exact date for the earliest sunset or earliest sunrise varies by latitude. Toward the end of the first week of December, mid-temperate latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere have their earliest sunsets. The earliest sunset for 40 degrees N. latitude is on December 7. That would be the latitude of New York City; Philadelphia; Kansas City, Missouri; Reno, Nevada; Beijing, China; Madrid, Spain; Naples, Italy. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere’s mid-temperate latitudes are waking up to their earliest sunrises.
Tonight’s moon – December 6-7, 2014 – travels farthest north of the celestial equator. This event is called a northern lunistice or northern standstill. You know how the sun reaches its northernmost point on the sky’s dome once a year on the June solstice? See sky chart below. A northern standstill is a bit like a solstice in that the moon is northernmost. However, northern standstills of the moon takes place once a month, not once a year.