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Geminid meteors peak this week

Image top of post: Geminid meteor radiant point by Greg Smye-Rumsby/Astronomy Now/Royal Astronomical Society

These next several nights are probably the best nights for watching for meteors in the annual Geminid shower. The peak morning is likely to be December 14, 2018, but the morning of December 13 might offer a good display, too, and meteor watchers have been catching Geminids for some nights now.

Just know that – although this is one shower you can successfully watch in the (late) evening – the best viewing hours are typically around 2 a.m., no matter where you are on Earth.

In 2018, the waxing crescent moon won’t be a hindrance because it’ll set in the evening. That means a dark sky from late evening until dawn for the 2018 Gemini meteor shower. Yay!

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Veteran meteor photographer Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona, captured this Geminid meteor flying from the radiant point on December 8, 2018. Note that the inset is our radiant point chart, shown at the top of this post. Thanks, Eliot!

The Geminid meteors radiate from near star Castor in Gemini.

The Geminids radiate from near bright Castor in the constellation Gemini, in the east on December evenings. Read more.

So the absolute best time of night to watch for Geminid meteors is around 2 a.m., when the the shower’s radiant point – near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini – is high in the sky.

If you’re not one to stay up late, you can watch for meteors during the evening hours. Although the meteors will be few and far between at early-to-mid evening, you might, if you’re lucky, catch an earthgrazer – a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky.

Can you watch the meteor shower online? Yes. It won’t be the same experience as being out under a dark country sky. But, especially if you’re clouded out and can’t get out of the city, watching online can be a good way to join the fun. So far, we’ve heard from only one organization planning to broadcast the Geminids live. It’s sky-live.tv, which will cover the live event with 3 cameras in Teide Observatory (Canary Islands), Olivenza (Extremadura) and High Energy Observatory HESS (Namibia).

The narration will be in Spanish. Find the live broadcast here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/LHuT5yDtDu0.

English speakers might like sky-live.tv’s Sky Cam for the Geminids, which has no narration: https://www.youtube.com/embed/mFUBpGEjY54.

Can you watch from the Southern Hemisphere? Sure! At temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, the meteors tend to be fewer. The Geminids do favor the Northern Hemisphere, where the radiant appears higher in the sky. However, this shower is also visible from the tropical and subtropical parts of the Southern Hemisphere.

On the expected peak night of the Geminids – the night of December 13, 2018 – the moon will be close to Mars on the sky’s dome. Watch for Mars and the moon shortly after sunset and into the early evening. Mars will set in late evening, a prelude to the Geminid’s most prolific display of streaking meteors, likely on the morning of December 14. Read more about Mars and other December planets.

How many meteors will you see? The Geminids are a consistent and prolific shower, but the numbers of meteors you see also strongly depends on your sky conditions and on how far you are from city lights. Often, in the hours after midnight and under a dark sky, you can see 50 or more meteors per hour. Rates of 120 per hour have been reported at the peak, under optimum sky conditions.

In 2018, the absence of moonlight will provide dark skies from late night until dawn. How many will you see? We don’t know! Just watch, and let us know.

Remember … meteors in annual showers typically come in spurts and 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.

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. Read more about 3200 Phaethon, the Geminid’s parent object.

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John Ashley in Glacier National Park, Montana, caught this amazing earthgrazer meteor on December 6, 2018. Earthgrazers are best seen in the evening hours. Watch for them during this week’s Geminid meteor shower! John said this one lasted approximately 4 seconds and left behind a glowing smoke train that lasted at least 24 minutes. He commented: “The meteor went dark just above Dusty Star Mountain, or ‘Iszika-kakatosi’ in Blackfeet, which translates to ‘smoking star.'” Cool! Thanks, John! Nikon D750, Rokinon 24mm lens @ f1.4, 30 sec, ISO 3200.

Bottom line: With the moon setting relatively early in the evening, 2018 could be an excellent year for the Geminid shower. Peak morning is probably December 14, but watch December 13, too. And you might catch some Geminids before those dates!

Read more: 10 tips for watching the Geminids

Read more: Find the Geminid meteors’ radiant point

Read more: All you need to know about the Geminid meteor shower

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