Clear skies offer great view of Geminid meteor shower Wednesday, Thursday
Posted December 13, 2017 2:04 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 3:18 p.m. EDT
Conditions are right for a great showing of the annual Geminid meteor shower as it peaks Wednesday and Thursday. This is anticipated to be the best meteor shower of the year.
Unlike August’s Perseids which competed with bright moonlight, "The thin, waning crescent Moon won't spoil the show,” according to Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in Huntsville, Ala.
In the Triangle, skies should be clear. WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner pointed out a brief disturbance that is expected to move through the area after sunset. While we are not likely see much precipitation, there may be a few clouds, especially near the Virginia line by 9 p.m. Conditions will improve just as quickly, revealing mostly clear skies by midnight, just in time for the best viewing hours.
The Geminid shower is different from other meteor showers because it is active throughout the night.
"Good rates will be seen between 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and dawn local time the morning of Dec. 14, with the most meteors visible from midnight to 4 a.m. on Dec. 14, when the radiant is highest in the sky,” Cooke said.
That broad activity makes this show far more family friendly.
For those with early bedtimes, 7 to 8:30 p.m is a good time to watch the light show, but be sure bundle up. Temperatures will be in the mid-30s. During this time, the radiant, or point where the meteors appear to be coming from will have just risen above the northeastern horizon. This geometry is known to produce a few “earthgrazers” or meteors with long bright trails skimming the upper atmosphere at a low angle.
To help maximize the number of meteors you see, give that radiant point time to rise higher in the sky. Set your alarm to observe between 2 and 4 a.m. Predictions this year are for a meteor every few minutes. Rural observers could see 100 or more per hour.
Meteors may appear anywhere in the sky, so look to a spot that is away from lights. Don't forget to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Your eyes probably won't catch the first few meteors while they adjust to the darkness. When you see a meteor, trace it backward. If you reach the constellation Gemini and its stars Pollux and Castor, you've seen a Geminid!
Morehead Planetarium is planning a skywatching session from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. Educators there recommend bringing blankets and lawn chairs.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.