If it stays clear tonight, keep a lookout high overhead for the shooting stars of the Geminid meteor shower.  The Geminids are usually one of the two best meteor showers of the year, often beating out the Perseids of August. And this year there's no moonlight to interfere.

So where do these shooting stars come from?  The Geminid meteors are created by tiny pieces of rocky debris, often the size of large sand grains or pebbles.  These were shed from a small asteroid named 3200 Phaethon.  Over the centuries, these bits have spread all along the asteroid’s orbit to form moving “river of rubble” hundreds of millions of km long.  Earth’s annual orbit around the Sun carries us through this stream of particles every mid-December.

The Geminids will radiate from the constellation Gemini; that means you should look to the SW in the early morning hours of December 14.  

Under a clear, dark sky, you could see at least one Geminid every minute from roughly 10 p.m until dawn Friday morning.   If you’re not interested in staying up late, have a look earlier in the evening.  The counts will be lower, but a few should also flash into view.

You don’t have to worry about expensive equipment either; all you need to watch the meteors are your eyes.   Find a dark spot with an open view of the sky and no glary lights nearby.   Go out late in the evening, lie back, and gaze up into the stars.  The best direction to watch is wherever your sky is darkest, probably straight up.

Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky. Small ones appear as tiny, quick streaks. Occasional brighter ones may sail across the heavens for several seconds and leave a brief train of glowing smoke.

They are out there!  Michael Boschat with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada watched from his balcony last night.  He was out between 8 pm and 3 am (bless his soul), and saw about 30 meteors.

Good luck tonight…

 

Chief Meteorologist

Cindy Day