Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jumpin' Geminids!

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, December 14, the Geminid meteor shower will peak. This is a great opportunity to view one of the more reliable meteor showers of the year, if you're an early riser or if you don't have to work on Tuesday.

I fall into the latter category, which is a good thing, since I'm far more adept at staying up than at getting up. I plan to begin viewing after midnight, since a big old waxing (growing) gibbous Moon will light up the sky until around 12:45 a.m. Bright moonlight is a meteor watcher's nemesis, as its glare washes out many of the fainter meteors.

This shower's radiant--the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to emanate--lies in the constellation Gemini, which will be at its highest point in the sky between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. local time. Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky; if you spot a meteor during this hour and can trace its trajectory back to a spot overhead, chances are it was a Geminid.

Geminids usually appear white or yellow, and we'll have a chance to spot some really bright fireballs. There should be around 120 meteors per hour "jumping" at the shower's peak.

The best viewing position for meteor watching is lying down, so you can see the largest amount of sky at once. You have a better chance of spotting the most meteors this way. I plan to lie on a comfy chaise lounge inside a down sleeping bag. Yes, the Geminids are a great shower but do they have to fly during the coldest month of the year in my area?? A thermos of hot chocolate within reach is also on my must-have winter meteor watching list.

Here's hoping for clear skies on Tuesday morning in your area. Good luck, and be sure to post your Geminid-watching experience here.