10 tips for watching the Geminids

#1. Geminid meteor numbers tend to intensify as evening deepens into late night, with the greatest number of meteors likely falling an hour or 2 after midnight. That’s true no matter where you are on the globe.

Image via Cumbrian Sky.

If you had to pick one morning for watching the 2018 Geminid meteor shower, it’d probably be December 14. The mornings before and after should be good as well. At their peak, on a dark, moonless night, the Geminids have been known to produce 120 meteors per hour in the wee hours after midnight. The moon is in a waxing crescent phase for this year’s shower, so the moon sets relatively early in the evening. That means a dark sky for this year’s Geminid shower.

Here are 10 tips for watching this famous annual meteor shower.

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1. Watch late night to dawn. 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.

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 2018 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 backwards 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. Watch for Mars and Venus. In December 2018, the red planet Mars lights up the evening sky until around midnight. Dazzling planet Venus shines at dawn. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, beneath Venus as darkness ebbs into dawn. See the charts below.

On the expected peak night of the Geminids, the moon will be close to Mars on the sky’s dome. Mars’ setting around midnight marks a fine time to start watching this annual shower in 2018.

Venus rises in the wee hours of the morning, Mercury follows Venus into the morning sky just as nighttime gives way to morning dawn.

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. How does that help you watch the shower? It doesn’t. But it’s fun to contemplate on a dark night under the stars. Read more: Mysterious rock-comet 3200 Phaethon.

8. Bring along a buddy. Both of you watch different parts of the sky. If one of you sees one, shout out “meteor!” Again, don’t worry about which direction to look. Just let your eyes rove casually in all parts of the sky.

9. Special equipment? Not necessary. You only need a dark sky, a reclining lawn chair and the warmth of a sleeping bag. A hot drink and a snack can also be good.

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: We anticipate 2018 being a good year for the Geminid meteor shower! Here are 10 tips.

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Deborah Byrd