WASHINGTON — Yeah, I know it is cold. But if the sky stays clear overnight Friday, we will enjoy the peak time for what I think is the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids.
I say this because it reliably produces a large number of meteors per hour — between 100 and 200 — and and many of them are bright. Plus, the Geminids is the only major meteor shower where you can see a good number of meteors during the early evening hours instead of the hours just before dawn.
The predicted peak of the 2013 Geminid meteor shower is overnight Dec. 13, but you can see Geminids from Dec. 12 through 16. Each year at this time our planet encounters a debris stream of rock particles made by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The Geminids is the only meteor shower caused by an asteroid or what astronomers call a rock comet. All others are due to cometary debris.
As Earth moves in its orbit around the sun it collides with this rocky debris stream and the particles hit our atmosphere at 22 miles per second to become shooting or falling stars. It is thought that the Geminds are brighter than other meteor showers because they involve larger and heavier debris than normal cometary dust and penetrate deeper into the atmosphere.
The best place to see the Geminids is a location that is away from lights and obstructions such as trees and buildings. If you are a city dweller you still may see the brightest Geminids as long as you are not staring into a street light or nestled in among tall buildings. The view of the Geminids is worth it from the suburbs as long as lights and obstructions are minimized as best you can. Out in the country or along the beach is the best place to be.
Unfortunately, the weather may not cooperate with Friday night’s meteor shower – ABC7’s Doug Hill predicts increasing clouds Friday night, leading to a wintry mix Saturday morning. Read the full forecast here.
You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy the show — just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky. Starting at 9 p.m., look in the east for the constellation Gemini, for which this meteor shower is named. Brilliant Jupiter is in the constellation, making it really easy to find and both will rise higher as the night progresses. A meteor that is part of the shower can be traced back to Gemini. Sporadic meteors that are not part of the shower can be seen during the night as well.
The shower will continue all night and be best an hour before dawn when the almost full moon has set — about 4 a.m. The moon will obscure the dimmer meteors but there should be a bright shooting star every couple of minutes from a dark sky site. The key to watching the shower is being comfortable, in other words WARM. The Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky but looking straight up gives you the widest viewing area — this is where the lounge chair or blanket come in handy.
Enjoy the shower with family, friends or your significant other. Some music, food and beverages are an added plus. You can also tune in to a NASA live chaton the Geminids starting at 11 p.m.
Our best bet is to check the sky to see if it is clear when you want to go out to look.
If it is cloudy you can still observe the meteor shower by a very novel and cool means: Meteor radar. Yes, radar that scans for incoming meteors as well as satellites and space debris. It is a fascinating way to monitor a meteor shower like this one. Essentially, the louder a ping is, the brighter the meteor would be in the sky.
You can listen day and night.
Good hunting, clear skies or not!
Follow @WTOP on Twitter.