The annual Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight (Sunday night, Dec. 13 – Monday morning, Dec. 14). Yes, it will be cold. But there are four reasons why it’s worth bundling up and heading outside to look:
1) You can view the Geminids as early as 9 or 10 tonight, with the most meteor activity expected around 1 or 2 a.m. Compare this with other major meteor showers, which require going out at an insane hour for the best viewing.
2) This is a strong, reliable shower. From a dark location, you can expect to see an average of one or two meteors (“shooting stars”) streak across the sky each minute.
3) No moonlight will wash out dimmer meteors from view, as they did for last year’s Geminids. This time the Moon is a waning crescent and won’t rise till almost dawn.
4) As I write this, the Clear Sky Charts for most of North Carolina, including the Triangle area, predict clear skies this evening.
To view the Geminids, wear really, really warm clothes, a hat, and gloves, and wrap yourself in a sleeping bag or blankets. Find a safe location without too many trees or unshielded outdoor lights nearby to hurt your view.
Allow your eyes about 15 minutes to adjust to the dark, and watch the sky from your sleeping bag or reclining lawn chair. The Geminids are named for the constellation they appear to radiate from, but you do not need to know how to find Gemini to spot the meteors.
If you want to learn to identify those Gemini twins as well as what else is up in the night sky over the next few months, you can register for Starry Winter Nights. This adult class happens Wednesday evening, Dec. 16. And if you missed the 2009 Geminids, we can re-create them in the star theater with the push of a button.
Amy Sayle is Morehead's Science 360 manager. She looks forward to teaching Starry Winter Nights in Morehead's climate-controlled star theater.