Astronomy Essentials

Geminids 2021: 10 tips for meteor-watching

Geminids: Many thin white streaks raining down in deep blue starry sky from point near Castor and Pollux.
Prabhakaran A captured these Geminids to create this composite on December 14, 2018. He wrote of the 2018 Geminid shower, “I witnessed 200+ meteors, most of them very faint.”

2021’s Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of Monday, December 13, into Tuesday, December 14. This year, a waxing gibbous moon will be above the horizon during the peak time for viewing around 2 a.m. (as seen from all parts of the globe). But it’ll set shortly afterwards, leaving the sky dark for watching meteors. So the best time to watch for Geminid meteors in 2021 is likely before dawn – say, from around 3 a.m. to dawn – on the morning of December 14. Read more about 2021’s Geminid meteor shower.

Moon or no moon, the Geminid meteor shower is always worth a look. You never know when you’ll be surprised by a bright fireball. The radiant, which is near the star Castor in Gemini, rises around 7 p.m. local time (the time on your clock wherever you are), reaching to near overhead around 2 a.m. While it’s possible to see up to 120 meteors per hour when the radiant is overhead, it’s still exciting to see even just a handful. For your best chance to see the most Geminids, make sure you’re in a dark-sky location. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of the Geminids in 2021.

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Meteors streaking at night over a snow field.
View at EarthSky Community Photos | Hicham Dennaoui near Lausanne, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland, captured this Geminid meteor streaking at night over a snow field on December 14, 2021, and wrote: “Between late autumn and early spring, the Lake Geneva region is regularly covered in fog. This cloud layer can be relatively low. When this is the case, I try to get over it by going to the surrounding hills to take some very spectacular photos. This is what I did that evening, with the added idea of taking a time-lapse. The meteor stroke right while shooting (and not in between takes as per usual ;-) and just right within the frame. The image is very bright because the moon was up adding a lot of light to an already bright environment.” Thank you, Hicham!
Very bright, nearly vertical streak in densely starry sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Martha Dean in San Saba County, Texas, captured this photo of a Geminid fireball on December 14, 2020. She wrote: “After the clouds cleared the skies were full of Geminid meteors. A beautiful, chilly night in central Texas.” Thank you, Martha!

10 tips for watching the Geminids

1. The peak viewing time is around 2 a.m. Geminid meteor numbers tend to intensify as evening deepens into late night, with the greatest number of Geminids likely falling an hour or two after midnight, when the meteor shower’s radiant point appears highest in the sky as seen from around the globe. That time holds true no matter your time zone. In 2021, the waxing gibbous moon will set shortly after 2 a.m. on the peak morning, December 14. So there will be a good dark window for viewing from about 3 a.m. to dawn on December 14. Those times will hold true for most of the globe. Visit Sunrise Sunset Calendars to find the moonset time for your specific location. Be sure to check the moonset box.

2. Get away from city lights. For optimum viewing, find a dark place to observe in the country.

3. Give yourself a wide-open view of the sky. A farmer’s field? A stretch of country road? A campsite with a clear view in one or more directions? An open sky will increase your chances of seeing some meteors.

4. Watch for an hour or more. The 2021 Geminid meteor shower will be better if you let your eyes adapt to the dark. That can take as long as 20 minutes. Plus the meteors tend to come in spurts, followed by lulls. Be patient! You’ll see some.

5. Don’t worry about the radiant point. You don’t need to look in a single direction – or locate the Geminid’s radiant point – to have fun watching the shower. The meteors will appear all over the sky. The radiant point is interesting, though. If you track Geminid meteors backward on the sky’s dome, you’ll find them streaming from this point, within the constellation Gemini the Twins. Hence this shower’s name.

6. Pay attention to the moon. In 2021, the moon will be in a waxing gibbous phase, in front of the constellation Pisces, on the peak morning of December 14. Because you can look in any direction to spot Geminids, you may want to look at areas of the sky away from the moon. Anything in the moon’s vicinity will likely be washed out by its bright light. Another tip for watching in moonlight: place yourself in a moon shadow. Observing from the shadow of a barn, or mountain, even a tree, can help you see more meteors.

7. Think about the Geminids’ parent object. Most meteors in annual showers originate in comets. But the parent of the Geminid meteor shower is a mysterious body named 3200 Phaethon. This solar system object is termed an Apollo (near-Earth) asteroid, and it might be a dormant comet. This tidbit may not help you watch the shower, but it’s fun to discuss as you wait for the next meteor. Click here for more on weirdly comet-like 3200 Phaethon.

8. Bring along a buddy. Both of you watch different parts of the sky. If you see one, shout “Meteor!” Let your eyes rove casually in all parts of the sky.

9. No special equipment needed. Though you may be more comfortable with a reclining lawn chair, blankets and a hot drink.

10. Enjoy nature. As a wise man once said, meteor watching is a lot like fishing. You go outside. You hope you catch some!

Bottom line: The Geminids make up a strong annual meteor shower that peaks in mid-December. Maximize your viewing time with these tips.

December 12, 2021
Astronomy Essentials

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