This Saturday: Best meteor shower to watch with your kids (get to bed by midnight!)

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from the Morehead Planetarium Blog.

Dec 10 2014 – 2:02pm


Yes, it will be cold. So why should you go out to view the 2014 Geminid meteor shower?

1) It’s one of the best meteor showers of the year. Expect to see an average of a meteor per minute in a clear dark sky.

Although meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars,” they are not stars. Meteors are the streaks of light you see when cosmic debris enters Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds and heats up. In the case of the Geminid meteors, the debris was shed by an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon.

2) You can view the Geminids at a reasonable hour, with none of that go-out-at-4 a.m. business. This is the one major meteor shower that’s famous for producing good meteor activity during the evening hours.

The usual advice is to start watching around 9 p.m. or later, when the constellation Gemini—the direction of the sky that the Geminid meteors appear to radiate away from—rises fairly high above the horizon. At our Geminid skywatching session two years ago, we started seeing meteors soon after 8 p.m.

3) The peak night is predicted to be December 13, which this year (2014) is a Saturday—a convenient day of the week for many of us.

But the shower is already active. If some other night this week (or early next week) is better for you and you have clear skies, go ahead and try to spot some Geminids then.

4) Moonlight won’t interfere with your evening viewing this weekend. Moonlight and meteors aren’t a good mix because the light washes out the dimmer meteors from view.

Last year’s Geminid meteor shower coincided with a bright waxing gibbous moon. As a result, we didn’t bother holding a skywatching session. But this year (2014), the Moon is close to last quarter on December 13, which means it doesn’t rise until around midnight.

5) The Geminid meteor shower is reliable. As long as you have clear dark skies, this is not one of those uncertain skywatching events that may disappoint.

Viewing tips:

  • Remember to check your forecast. To see meteors, you want clear skies.
  • Dress really, really warmly. Consider bringing a sleeping bag or a blanket and reclining chair. Being outside at night for more than a few minutes can feel colder than you might expect any month of the year, and in December it can be positively brutal.
  • Find a dark site away from unshielded lights with an open view of the sky. If your sky is too light polluted to see many stars, you’ll see only the very brightest of the meteors. Turn off flashlights and put away bright cellphones. If you’re out after the Moon has risen, look away from the Moon.
  • Plan to spend some time outside looking patiently. Your eyes need more than a couple of minutes to adjust to the dark. And the meteors may come in clumps, with none for a few minutes at a time.
  • Look up. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. You don’t need to know how to find Gemini to see the meteors.

If the weather permits, you’re invited to join us for a Geminid viewing session this Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, from 8 to 10 p.m. at Jordan Lake, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area.

You can find directions and FAQs on the Morehead website. We’ll have telescopes, star stories, and constellation tours, in case you really do want to know where Gemini is.

Image: Geminid meteors appear to radiate away from a point near the star Castor in the constellation Gemini the Twins. (Credit: Stellarium)

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