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 dark 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!
In the Northern Hemisphere, this meteor shower often rates as one of the best – if not the best – shower of the year on a dark, moonless night. You can often see up to 50 or more meteors per hour in a moonless sky.
Although the Geminids favor the Northern Hemisphere, this shower is also visible from the tropical and subtropical parts of the Southern Hemisphere. At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the meteor numbers tend to be lower.
Can you watch the Geminid meteor shower in moonlight? You can try. The Geminids are known for sporting respectably bright meteors, so you might see a decent sprinkling of Geminids on these upcoming moonlit nights. As a general rule, the Geminid meteor shower starts around mid-evening (at mid-northern latitudes) and tends to pick up steam as evening deepens into late night. No matter where you live worldwide, the greatest number of meteors usually fall in the wee hours after midnight, or for the few hours centered around 2 a.m. local time. If you’re game, you can watch the Geminid shower all the way from mid-evening until dawn.
If you’re watching in moonlight, you’ll see the most meteors when the moon is lowest in the sky. Shortly before the moon sets, try sitting in a moon shadow with an otherwise open view of the sky to optimize your chances of catching some meteors.
Or just go to bed early and get up before dawn. At northerly latitudes, the shower radiant point – near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini – stays out until dawn. This custom sunrise calendar will help you learn the time of moonset at your precise location, on these nights. Be sure to click the option for moonrise/moonset times.
The Geminids are a consistent and prolific shower. Although The shower typically produces 50 or more meteors per hour – or an average of about one every minute – keep in mind those are the numbers you can expect on a dark, moonless night. Meteors often come in spurts and are interspersed by lulls, so give yourself at least an hour of observing time. Simply sprawl out on a reclining lawn chair, look upward and enjoy the show.
Although Friday night until Saturday morning will probably present the peak night of the Geminid meteor shower, tonight might be almost as good – especially since there will be less moonlight to obtrude on the show.
Where do the meteors come from? Although meteors are sometimes called ‘shooting stars,’ they have nothing to do with stars. Instead, they are strictly a solar system phenomenon. Around this time every year, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of a mysterious object called 3200 Phaethon, which might be an asteroid or a burnt-out comet orbiting our sun. Debris from this object burns up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere to give us the annual Geminid meteor shower. The moderately fast Geminids slice through the Earth’s atmosphere at some 35 kilometers – or 22 miles – per second.
The Geminid meteors are named for the constellation Gemini the Twins, because the radiant point of this shower lies in front Gemini, closely aligning with the bright star Castor. If you trace all the Geminid meteors backward, they all appear to originated from this constellation.
But you don’t need to know the constellation Gemini to see the meteor shower. The Geminid meteors will streak across all parts of the heavens from late night until dawn.
Bottom line: Find a dark sky to watch a seasonal attraction, the Geminid shower, on the nights of December 12-13 and 13-14, 2013. The moon will interfere, but, you will have a window of darkness between moonset and dawn, especially on the December 12-13. Plus the Geminids tend to be bright. You might catch a few in the moonlight. If you watch, the Geminids are sure to add to your enjoyment of holiday lighting these next few nights!