Our third of three supermoons in a row will win the fight overall as the Full Cold Moon’s light will significantly diminish the number of meteors that can be seen from between 75-100 an hour from an ideal viewing site to about 12. But, oh those 12 we can see will be worth the effort.
I say worth the effort as I think the Geminids are the best meteor shower of the year.
I say best because it reliably produces a large number of meteors per hour (75-100) in a dark sky and many of them are bright enough to be classified as fireballs — a meteor that is brighter than the planet Venus. With Venus in the southwestern sky after sunset you can readily see how bright that really is. Plus the Geminids is the only major meteor shower where you can see a good number of meteors starting at 10 p.m. local time instead of the hours just before dawn.
The predicted peak of the 2016 Geminid meteor shower is the night of Dec. 13-14, but you can see Geminids from the 12th to the 16th. 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 Geminids 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 streetlight or nestled in among tall buildings. Out in the country or along the beach is the best place to be. But with the Full Cold Supermoon this year city dwellers have just as good a chance to see fireballs as anyone else.
You do not need any equipment or know how to enjoy this sky show duel as the Full Cold Supermoon will be up and you need to just find a place where you can put a lounge chair or blanket to see the sky for the Geminids. Starting at 9 p.m., look in the east for the constellation Gemini for which this meteor shower is named. 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 normally seen during the night as well but the Full Cold Supermoon will eliminate all but the brightest sporadics.
The shower will continue all night until about 4 a.m. The very bright Full Cold Supermoon will be in the sky which will eliminate the fainter meteors. 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.
The weather may be cloudy in the WTOP viewing area for this sky show duel. The best bet is to check the sky to see if it is clear when you want to go out to look for Geminids and see the moon. If it is cloudy, you can still observe the Geminid meteor shower. Tune in live from 8 p.m. Dec. 13 until 6 a.m. on Dec. 14 on the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center’s Ustream account.
Good hunting, clear skies or not!
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