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Tips for viewing the 2019 Geminid meteor shower

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December 2, 2019
By Amy Sayle

The annual Geminid meteor shower peaks the night of December 13/14, 2019 (Friday evening into early Saturday morning). This is a strong, reliable shower known for producing good meteor activity before midnight.

This year, though, Friday the 13th brings us an unlucky moon phase. The bright light of the just-past-full Moon will obscure the dimmer meteors from view, cutting down on the total number you’ll see. You can still enjoy a meteor viewing outing, as long as you adjust your expectations.

Geminid meteor shower
Credit: Matt Lochansky


Viewing tips:

  • Choose a good time to look. The meteor shower is already happening and will be active through December 17, 2019. Assuming the weather cooperates, you can expect to see the most meteors before dawn on Saturday, December 14. It’s also worth your effort to look during the evening of Friday, December 13, starting around 9 p.m. At previous years’ skywatching events for the Geminids, we’ve typically seen meteors soon after 8 p.m. on the peak night.
    Check the weather. You want reasonably clear skies.
    Dress warmly. Really warmly. Consider bringing a sleeping bag or blanket, a reclining chair, and a thermos with a hot drink.
  • Select your site. You want a fairly open view of the sky. Avoid city lights.
  • Know what you’re looking for. Although meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars,” they are not stars. Meteors are the streaks of light you see when bits of cosmic debris interact with Earth’s atmosphere. In the case of the Geminids, the debris source is an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon.
  • Don’t worry about finding Gemini. Geminid meteors are called that because if you trace them all back, they appear to radiate away from the direction of the constellation Gemini. But the meteors can appear in any part of the sky. If you really want to find Gemini, it’ll be easy on the peak night this year—the Moon will lie in that constellation.
  • All you need are your eyes. Try looking away from the Moon and toward the darkest part of your sky. You don’t need or want a telescope to see meteors.
  • Avoid white light. That includes phone screens.
  • Be patient. Your eyes need time to adjust to the dark, and the meteors can come in clumps, with nothing for minutes at a time. This year, it may be many minutes at a time with no meteors, thanks to the moonlight.

If you enjoy viewing the night sky with other people, please join us on Friday night, December 13, 2019.  If weather cooperates, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is partnering with Durham Parks and Recreation to offer a free public skywatching event at West Point on the Eno at the Environmental Education Pavilion. (Important: Choose the park entrance without a traffic light. Use this address to find the correct turnoff: 5253 N Roxboro St, Durham NC 27712.)

Drop by any time between 8 p.m. on Friday, December 13, and 2 a.m. on Saturday, December 14. If you come between 8 and 10 p.m., you can view various celestial delights through telescopes operated by Morehead educators and members of the Chapel Hill and Raleigh astronomy clubs. We hope to see you! For information on other upcoming skywatching events visit this page.