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Tips for viewing the 2015 Geminids

Geminid meteor shower
Image: Geminid meteors appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, from a point near the bright star Castor.

BY AMY SAYLE

7 things to know about viewing the 2015 Geminids:

1. This is a strong, reliable meteor shower.

As long as you can find a view of the night sky that doesn’t suffer from too much light pollution or cloud cover, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see meteors. Meteors, which are sometimes (misleadingly) called “shooting stars,” are streaks of light caused by cosmic debris entering Earth’s atmosphere and heating up. In the case of the Geminids, the debris has been shed by 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid with some comet-like properties.

2. There are 2 good nights this year.

Assuming cooperative weather, two nights are recommended for viewing this year’s Geminids: Sunday, Dec. 13, and Monday, Dec. 14, 2015.

3. You can see lots of meteors before midnight.

The Geminid meteor shower is a favorite among those with early bedtimes because it produces good meteor activity before midnight. Yes, it can be really cold in December, but unlike that summertime meteor shower you may know and love, you needn’t go out at some ridiculous pre-dawn hour to see the most meteors. The usual advice is to start viewing around 9 or 10 p.m., but during skywatching sessions in previous years, we’ve seen meteors as early as 8 p.m.

4. The darker your viewing spot, the more meteors you’ll see.

You want to be away from city lights and any nearby unshielded lights. Under a dark sky you might see an average of a meteor per minute, if you look later in the evening.

If the weather permits, Morehead will host two free skywatching sessions for the public:

  • Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, from 8 to 10 p.m. – Little River Regional Park & Natural Area
  • Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, from 8 to 10 p.m. – Jordan Lake (Ebenezer Church Recreation Area)

Before you head out to a skywatching session, always check our website to make sure there’s not a cancellation notice.

5. Plan on staying outside at least half an hour.

The meteors can come in clumps, so several minutes may go by without any. Your eyes also need time to adjust to the dark. Be sure to put cellphones and flashlights away. White light, including from phone screens, hurts the night vision of everyone in the vicinity, making it difficult to see the dimmer meteors. Dim red lights are acceptable, but as much as possible, keep them off, too.

If you’ve driven to one of the skywatching sessions, please turn off headlights the instant you are safely parked, and don’t turn them on again until you’re ready to leave the parking space. As a courtesy to others, if you arrive late or plan to leave early, don’t look for a parking spot close to the viewing.

6. It may feel colder than you’re expecting.

If most of your time outside on winter nights is spent moving between a car and a building, you may be surprised by just how very, very cold it can feel to spend an hour under the stars, not moving around much. Dress more warmly than you think you need to, and it’ll probably work out just right. Crawling into a sleeping bag or using a blanket and reclining chair can be very helpful both for keeping warm and for keeping you from having to crane your neck.

7. You don’t need a telescope or binoculars.

To see meteors, all you need are your eyes. A telescope or binoculars will just restrict your field of view. However, we will have telescopes available at the skywatching sessions to view other celestial delights.

Finally, there’s 1 thing you don’t need to know:

1. You don’t need to know how to identify Gemini.

If you trace back a Geminid meteor to the point from which it appeared to originate, you’ll end up near the bright star Castor, in the area of the sky we call Gemini. This constellation appears in the east in early evening, rising higher through the evening hours.

But you don’t need to know how to identify Gemini to see the meteors. They can appear anywhere in the sky. You might choose to look toward the darkest part of your sky, away from any headlights or other unshielded lights.

And if you really do want to know how to find Gemini, we’ll show you! Come to a constellation tour during the skywatching sessions.