ST. GEORGE – If you’ve slept through all of this year’s meteor showers, don’t feel bad. The best one of the year is still to come, and barring cloudy skies, this shower could be spectacular.
The Geminids meteor shower is considered to be one of the best and most reliable annual meteor showers, according to the NASA website.
The Geminids are bright and fast meteors and tend to be yellow in color. Geminids are also known for their fireball meteors. Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is because fireballs originate from larger particles of material.
While the Geminids shower is active Dec. 4-17, the shower’s peak will most likely occur on the night of Dec. 13 and the early morning of Dec. 14. The early evenings of Dec. 12-13 may also offer a decent sprinkling of meteors as well. Geminid meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night, according to EarthSky.org.
The December Geminids are a particularly reliable and prolific shower, one of the finest of the year. In a year when moonlight doesn’t obscure the viewing, you can easily see 50 or more meteors per hour on the peak night of the Geminid shower.
However, the waning moon might somewhat dampen this year’s display in the peak viewing hours, which is centered at about 2 a.m. local time, no matter where you are on the globe.
Don’t let the moonlight discourage you; a good percentage of these yellow colored Geminid meteors are quite bright, and may well overcome the moonlit skies.
Of course, you can always watch this shower during the evening hours before moonrise. The moon will rise quite late on Dec. 13 and 14, creating a window of darkness for watching the Geminid shower in the evening. Keep in mind that the moon will rise about an hour earlier on Dec. 13 than it will on Dec. 14.
Even as the moon rises, however, it will be sitting low in the east. If possible, find a hedgerow of trees, a barn or some such thing to block out the moon. Sit in a moon shadow but at the same time, find an expansive view of sky. Or simply look away from the moon. The key to watching meteors is to find an open sky, away from pesky artificial lights. Lie down in comfort, perhaps snuggled up in a warm sleeping bag, and look upward.
What causes the Geminid meteor shower? Every year, in December, the planet Earth crosses the orbital path of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a mysterious body that is sometimes referred to as a rock comet, and estimated to be 3 miles in diameter. This small asteroid-type object swings extremely close to the sun – to within one-third of Mercury’s distance – at which time intense thermal fracturing causes the rocky body to crack and crumble, and to shed rubble into its orbital stream. At this time of year, the debris from 3200 Phaethon crashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at around 80,000 miles per hour, to vaporize as colorful Geminid meteors.
The Geminids are best viewed during the night and predawn hours and are visible across the globe. This shower is considered one of the best opportunities for young viewers since this shower starts around 9 or 10 p.m.
To view the Geminids, find an area well away from city or street lights. Come prepared with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing south and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
- Leonids meteor shower approaches; best viewing, meteor party
- On the EDge: The comfort of the night
- Look to the skies; Perseid meteors shower down
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.