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December 13-14 peak night for Geminid meteors

Meteor flying straight from Gemini's two brightest stars, Castor and Pollux, on night of December 12-13, 2012.  Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Mike O'Neal in Oklahoma.  Thank you Mike!

Tonight for December 13, 2014

Meteor in moonlight via fraktus

Meteor in moonlight via fraktus

The star Castor in the constellation Gemini nearly coincides with the radiant point of the annual Geminid meteor shower

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The peak night of the 2014 Geminid meteor shower is expected to be from late evening tonight (Saturday, December 13) until dawn tomorrow (Sunday, December 14). The meteors will be flying, but will you see them in the light of the last quarter moon in the hours after midnight? The brighter ones, yes, and the Geminids tend to be bright. If you want a moonless sky, your best bet on this night is to watch in evening hours before moonrise. At mid-northern latitudes, the meteors should start flying by around 9 p.m. local time. To optimize your chances, drive out into the country, where you’ll have the darkest possible sky. If you do that, you might see dozens of meteors per hour! Follow the links below to learn more about the 2014 Geminid meteor shower.

When is the best time to watch the Geminids in 2014?

What’s the best way to watch a meteor shower?

How many meteors can I expect to see in 2014?

Where is the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower?

What is the origin of the Geminid meteor shower?

When is the best time to watch the Geminids in 2014? As a general rule, the Geminid meteor shower intensifies after midnight and produces the greatest number of meteors for a few hours, centered around 2 a.m. That’s true no matter where you are around the globe, and it’s true whether the moon is up or not.

The last quarter moon rising late tonight should not really intrude too greatly on the Geminid meteor show. In fact, it’s an open question whether you’ll see more meteors before moonrise or afterwards. This custom sunrise calendar will help you learn the time of moonset and sunrise at your precise location, on these nights. Be sure to click the option for moonrise/moonset times. Watching the moon rise is in itself a big treat!

A Geminid meteor, the bright blue star Vega, and an aurora as seen by EarthSky Facebook friend Borge Solberg in Norway at the 2012 Geminid meteor shower.

What’s the best way to watch a meteor shower? You need to get away from city lights and find a wide open view of the sky. City, state and national parks are good, and you might be able to camp and make a night of it. Enjoy the comfort of a reclining lawn chair – the warmth of a sleeping bag – a thermos with a hot drink – a snack – and possibly star maps with a red flashlight, if you want them (you won’t need them to enjoy the meteors).

Give your eyes at least 20 minutes time to adapt to the dark. Often, meteors come in spurts and are interspersed by lulls. So give yourself at least an hour to watch the Geminids.

You don’t need special equipment – only a dark, open sky. Simply look upward and enjoy the company of family and friends.

How many meteors can I expect to see in 2014? The Geminids are considered one of the best meteor showers for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. In a year with no moon, they reliably offer 50 or more meteors per hour at their peak. In 2014, the last quarter moon shouldn’t substantially lessen the number of visible meteors.

You might still see 50 meteors per hour. In an urban or suburban sky, you might not see any.

You can also see this shower from the tropical and subtropical regions in the Southern Hemisphere. Farther south, the radiant of the Geminid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky, so the shower is not as rich at southern temperate latitudes.

Where is the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower? This meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini the Twins. If you trace the paths of all the Geminid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from a certain spot in front of Gemini. This point is called the meteor shower radiant point. The Geminids radiant is located near the bright star Castor.

Just remember, you don’t have to find the meteor shower radiant to see the Geminid meteors. The meteors radiate from that point, but they then shoot all over the sky. The radiant for the shower is rather low in the east at early evening, meaning the meteors will be few and far between at that time. The radiant climbs upward as evening deepens into late night, and reaches its high point for the night around 2 a.m. local time. That why greatest number of meteors usually fall after midnight, for a few to several hours, centered on or near 2 a.m.

What is the origin of the Geminid meteor shower? Most meteor showers take place when our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet. The comet debris plunges into Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the vaporizing particles fill the night with meteors. But the Geminid meteor shower appears to be an oddity. The shower’s parent body appears to be a near-Earth asteroid, rather than a comet. Astronomers have named this object 3200 Phaethon.

Bottom line: The peak of the Geminid meteor shower in 2014 is probably the night of December 13-14. The last quarter moon in the morning hours should not obtrude too greatly on the great celestial light show. Have fun!

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Radiant point for December’s Geminid meteor shower