Letters to the Editor – December 2, 2015
Mark your calendar for the Geminid meteor shower Dec. 12 – 14
The constellation of “Gemini”, the Twins, is famous for its prolific meteor shower called the “Geminids.” Every December, for a few days centered around the 12th through the 14th, the earth passes through a stream of meteoric material, which is the rocky debris from Asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
Entering the atmosphere at speeds of 22 miles per second (80,500 mph) these bits of iron and stone heat up and become incandescent. Some of the meteors will appear as barely visible streaks, while others are much brighter. And sometimes you’ll see large, bright, and slower moving, “Fireballs.” They can really light up the sky!!
These “shooting stars” appear to radiate near the star Castor, in Gemini. The radiant rises higher throughout the evening, and will be almost overhead at 2 a.m. Actually, the best time to watch is between midnight and sunrise.
This year the best nights to watch will be Sunday night the 13th and Monday night the 14th. The two-day-old waxing crescent moon sets early, causing no problem at all.
The International Meteor Organization predicts that the Geminids could reach 120 per hour. This is the number a single observer would see per hour under dark skies, away from our ever-present and, unfortunately, increasing light pollution.
The best time to start observing is between 10 and 11 p.m. You might see a meteor a minute, on average, as Gemini rises higher and the earth rotates into the meteor stream.
Binoculars or telescopes aren’t needed for meteor watching. The best way to look for meteors is to scan the sky in all directions. Don’t stare at one section of the sky; you’ll end up missing meteors that are overhead or behind you.
If the weather is clear, dress appropriately, and try observing this famous meteor shower. You just might find yourself getting hooked on stargazing.