Geminids Meteor Shower Peaks TONIGHT!


Disappointed with the meager showing put on by this year's Leonid meteor shower?

The best meteor display of the year is scheduled to reach its peak tonight, Monday night, Dec. 13, 2004

Skywatchers lucky enough to have dark skies and be far away from the glare of city lights could see one or two meteors every minute during the Geminid meteor shower.

The greatest activity is expected to be visible from North America, Europe and Africa.

The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. On the night of this shower's maximum, the meteors will appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

The Geminid meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August. Studies of past displays show that this shower has a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness.

This year, the Moon will be at New phase Dec. 11. On the peak night, the Moon will be a skinny crescent, low in the west-southwest at dusk and setting before 6 p.m. That means the sky will be dark and moonless for the balance of the night, making for perfect viewing conditions.

Generally speaking, depending on your location, Gemini begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight is coming to an end. So you might catch sight of a few early Geminids as soon as the sky gets dark. There is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors.

The Geminids begin to appear noticeably more numerous in the hours after 10 p.m. local time Monday, because the shower's radiant is already fairly high in the eastern sky by then. The best views, however, come around 2 a.m. Tuesday, when their radiant point will be passing very nearly overhead. The higher a shower's radiant, the more meteors it produces all over the sky.

If you plan to stay up and stay outside in the cold, remember to wrap up much more warmly than you think is necessary!

Give your eyes 15 minutes or more to adapt to the darkness before getting serious about meteor watching. And have something comfortable to sit on; a lounge chair will allow you to stare up for long periods without straining your neck.

Geminids stand apart from the other meteor showers in that they seem to have been spawned not by a comet, but by 3200 Phaeton, an Earth-crossing asteroid. Then again, the Geminids may be comet debris after all, for some astronomers consider Phaeton to really be the dead nucleus of a burned-out comet that somehow got trapped into an unusually tight orbit.

Learn some more at Sky & Telescope:

The Geminids: An Exception to the Rule