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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, 2013

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

The peak night of the 2013 Geminid meteor shower is expected to be from late evening tonight (Friday, December 13) until dawn tomorrow (December 14). The meteors will be flying, but will you see them in the bright light of the waxing gibbous moon? The brighter ones, yes, and the Geminids do tend to be bright. If you want a moonless sky, your best bet on this night is to watch in the narrow window between moonset and dawn on Saturday. To optimize your chances, get up early on Saturday and 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 2013 Geminid meteor shower.

When is the best time to watch the Geminids in 2013?

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

How many meteors can I expect to see in 2013?

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 2013? 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.

Unfortunately, while the moon is up, it’ll drown out some of the meteors. So wait until moonset, in the hours before dawn on the morning of December 14. 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.

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 2013? 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 2013, however, the moon-drenched skies are sure to lessen the number of visible meteors.

By how much, you ask? That depends. In a very dark country sky between moonset and dawn on December 14, 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 meteor radiate from that point, but they then shoot all over the sky.

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 2013 is probably the night of December 13-14. But the moon sets later on this night than it did the night before, leaving a more narrow window for meteor watching. If you want to watch the Geminids, get up early on the morning of December 14 and watch in a dark country sky. Have fun!

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Radiant point for December’s Geminid meteor shower