BRAINERD, Minn. -- A wintry night celestial display is in store as the Geminid meteor shower promises one of the strongest showings of the year Thursday, Dec. 13, and Friday.
And this year, mild temperatures in the 20s should provide for more pleasant viewing -- as long as the clouds give way as predicted. The National Weather Service forecast calls for mostly clear skies with a slight southern breeze.
Accuweather noted those who do venture outside will be rewarded with multi-colored meteors in the most intense of all meteor showers. The Geminids will peak Thursday night into Friday morning.
“The annual Geminid meteor shower is the richest of the year, even beating out the Perseids of August,” amateur astronomer Bob King of the Duluth News Tribune wrote in his Astro Bob blog. “One of the great things about this shower is that you don’t necessarily have to rise at 2 a.m. to see it. The radiant -- the point in the sky from which the meteors will appear to stream -- lies in the constellation Gemini near the star Castor. And Gemini’s high enough in the eastern sky by 10 p.m. to see a good show before bedtime.”
King noted slow-moving meteors -- Geminid Earthgrazers -- should be visible as early as 7-8 p.m. and are known to flare for a long time before fading out as they scrape the top of the atmosphere and burn more slowly.
“While uncommon, Earthgrazers are amazing to watch because they can last for many seconds,” King stated.
The American Meteor Society noted the Geminids are the most dependable meteor shower each year but December’s chilly and often cloudy conditions detract from its popularity. But, the society reported, it’s the darkness of the winter sky that makes the meteors stand out even in the early evening hours.
“The Geminids seen during the early evening hours are long and slow moving,” the American Meteor Society reported on its website. “The reason for this is that the Earth is just beginning to face toward the incoming meteors. They are just able to skim the upper portions of the atmosphere so they last longer in the thinner air and tend to create long paths in the sky.”
King said he usually spends an hour earlier in the evening to watch the meteor shower and then rises about 2-3 a.m. Friday to see its peak time.
“You’ll read elsewhere of 120 Geminids visible per hour at shower peak, but this is how many you’d see from the darkest sky with the radiant directly overhead. Few of us live in such a meteor utopia. Expect something closer to 60 per hour from reasonably dark skies. Based on my own observations under good conditions with no moon in the sky, I typically see around 30 to 40 per hour. At least the moon won’t cause any trouble this time around. It will be a waxing crescent off to the southwest and set around 10:30 p.m.”
Tips for viewing
The American Meteor Society recommends turning the back to the bright moon and letting eyes adjust to darkness to see the meteors that may be more faint.
Getting the lawn chair out of winter storage helps, as well as gathering a blanket or two and a warm beverage to enjoy the night display.
“It is also advisable to watch for as long as possible as meteor activity waxes and wanes throughout the night,” the society reported. “There will be periods when little activity is seen and then other periods when meteors are falling constantly. These periods often last as long as 15 minutes, so it is advisable to watch for an hour or more so that you witness several peaks and valleys and get a real feel of the meteor activity.”
About the Geminids
Accuweather noted facts about the Geminids:
They are composed of debris from Asteroid 3200 Phaeton,
The meteor shower has increased in intensity since first seen in 1862, and
Geminids fall at more than 79,000 mph.
“Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky, but they all fly out of Gemini,” King stated. “That means you can face any direction to watch the shower. I like south or east because Orion’s there, one of my favorite constellations and many other bright stars of the season.”
A pair of binoculars may be handy for those who also want to see the Comet Wirtanen, amid the Geminids.
King said: “So if you want to enjoy a great show hosted by a crumbling asteroid, dress up in your finest winter gear, stride purposely out the door and look up.”