SANTA MONICA, CA – The upcoming Geminid meteor shower is highly regarded as the best of the year, reliably producing between 50 and 100 meteors per hour, including multi-colored fireballs – but you should be in Santa. get away from the street lights Monica for the best view.
The Geminids run from December 4th to 17th and culminate overnight on Monday and Tuesday, December 13th to 14th. The best time to see Gemini is around 2:00 a.m. on the 14th, when the shower’s radiating point – the constellation Gemini – reaches its highest point in the sky.
If you can’t make it outside during peak season, don’t despair.
You should also be able to see a slew of falling stars a few days earlier as the Geminid meteor shower approaches its crescendo. And if you can’t or don’t want to stay up most of the night scanning the sky for meteors and fireballs, early evening sky watchers can catch a rare earth grass – that is, a slow, long-lived meteor that flies horizontally across the sky.
A waxing, domed moon – that is, about half of the face is lit – can block out some of the weaker meteors. But these meteors are so productive and bright that you should be able to see some falling stars, especially in areas with dark skies.
Here are some places to consider in California:
- Julian, California
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
If that’s not possible, all you know is that the number of meteors visible per hour will drop to around 30 or 40 in the suburbs, and there will be almost nothing to see in the city centers.
A Geminid meteor grazes diagonally across the sky against a field of star trails in this 1½ minute recording dated December 14, 2006 over Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Willow Beach, Arizona. (Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
Meteors occur when the earth passes through debris left by crumbling comets and space rocks in its orbit around the sun. The Geminid meteors fly as the earth traverses the massive trail of dusty debris left by the rocky object called the 3200 Phaethon. Dust and grit burn up when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, creating meteorite eddies.
Phaethon is one of the secrets of the universe, according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke.
“It’s either a near-Earth asteroid or an extinct comet, sometimes called a rock comet,” he wrote on a blog on the agency’s website. “There is another object – an Apollo asteroid called 2005 UD – that is in a dynamically similar orbit to Phaethon, which has led to speculation that the two were once part of a larger body that was splitting apart or with another asteroid collided. “
There’s more: “Most shower meteors are dropped by comets as their orbits take them into the inner solar system, but the Geminids could be the debris of that long-ago decay or collision event. When you consider that the Geminid meteor shower has more mass than any other meteor shower, including the Perseids, everything that happened back then must have been pretty spectacular. “
The first known report of the Geminid meteor shower comes from 1833 when it was seen from a river boat slowly moving on the Mississippi. Back then the rain was producing 10 or 20 an hour, but the Geminids have increased in intensity over the centuries as Jupiter’s gravity pulls particles from 3200 Phaethon closer to Earth.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your nighttime meteorite-watching excursion:
- Give your eyes 30 minutes to an hour to get used to the darkness.
- Lie flat on your back on a thick blanket or hammock, or kick back in a lounge chair so you can see as much of the sky as possible. Don’t look directly at Gemini, the radiant point of the shower; You’re about to miss out on some of the amazing tails associated with this winter favorite. Instead, look slightly away from the constellation.
- The only thing that puts the Geminid meteor shower in second place behind the Perseid meteor shower in August is the late fall cold, so bring some hot drinks and snacks and prepare to settle in. The Geminids reward patience. They often fly in bursts, but there may be pauses if you don’t see any meteors at all.
If you miss the Geminids, there is another chance to see meteors in 2021. The Ursid meteor shower runs from December 17th to 26th and always reaches its peak around the winter solstice, December 21st.
The Ursids are quite reluctant, delivering five or 10 meteors per hour, but on rare occasions they can produce eruptions of 100 or more meteors per hour. The meteors seem to come from the constellation Ursa Minor.