10 tips for watching the Geminids

Image at top via Cumbrian Sky

If you had to pick one night for watching the 2018 Geminid meteor shower, it’d probably be December 13 (morning of December 14). The nights before and after should be good as well. On a dark, moonless night, the Geminids are known to produce 50 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. You’ll find EarthSky’s top 10 tips for watching this shower below.

1. Watch late night to dawn.

2. Get away from city lights.

3. Give yourself a wide-open view of the sky.

4. Watch for an hour or more.

5. Don’t worry about the radiant point.

6. Watch for Mars and Venus.

7. Think about the Geminids’ parent object.

8. Bring along a buddy.

9. Special equipment? Not necessary.

10. Enjoy nature.

Best gift for sky lovers? EarthSky moon calendar for 2018. Click here.

View larger. | Stephanie Longo near Pikes Peak, Colorado caught these 3 meteors on the morning of December 13, 2017. We’re getting some awesome reports of last night’s shower, and Stephanie wrote: “I saw many, many beautiful meteors…”

1. Watch late night to dawn. Geminid meteors numbers tend to intensify as evening deepens into late night, with greatest numbers 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 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 till around midnight, and the dazzling planet Venus adorns the the predawn/dawn sky. 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 whereas Mercury follows Venus into the morning sky just as nighttime begins to give 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.

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!

The Virtual Telescope Project will be offering online viewing this year of both the Geminids and 3200 Phaethon. Check out the times listed in the poster above. Click here to translate to your time zone. Click here to go to Virtual Telescope Project’s site.

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

Deborah Byrd