COLUMN: An eye to the sky – Geminids meteor shower

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Are you a night owl looking for a fun December activity for your family? Here’s your chance to stay up and kick back. The 2017 Geminids meteor shower will soon be upon us! No telescope or binoculars required.

     Beginning on Dec. 7, the Geminids are said to be one of the most reliable and prolific meteor showers, producing up to 120 to 160 meteors per hour during its peak on Dec. 13 and 14. In addition to magnificent glowing bright white meteors, Geminids have been known to produce yellow, blue, red, and even green meteors.

     On most dark nights, from dusk till dawn, during the Geminids showers you have a chance to witness 50 or more meteors per hour. The greatest numbers of meteors though will fall from midnight to 2 a.m. when the radiant point, the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini, is highest in the sky.

     The constellation Gemini can be located by first finding the constellation Orion and then following a line north through Rigel and Betelgeuse. Orion’s belt, with three bright evenly spaced stars, is usually easy to find. The brightest stars, Pollux and Castor in the constellation Gemini, are named for the famous twins from Greek mythology. Visit a constellation chart to augment your meteor-watching experience.

     We are in luck this year, with only the light from a slender waning crescent moon to contend with. Although many people concentrate on the constellation Gemini, you should watch all parts of the sky for Geminids meteors. In addition, the brilliant planet Jupiter will be rising in the east around the peak of the Geminids meteor shower and will be visible until dawn.

     No special equipment is required to watch the Geminids meteor shower – just a dark open sky and the means to stay warm.

     Unlike many meteor showers identified with active comets, the Geminids are now known to be produced by debris left behind by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, discovered in 1982.

     The Geminids meteor shower runs annually Dec. 7-17. This year should offer a wonderful meteor show! 




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