Share it! Science : See it? Share it! Geminid Meteor Shower

See it? Share it! Geminid Meteor Shower

I'm changing things up this week and rather than sharing an observation that I have made, I'm sharing an observation I hope to make...
Geminid Meteor Shower (Photo credit: NASA, Jimmy Westlake)
     This Saturday night, December 13th, 2014 will be the best timing for peak viewing of the Geminid meteor shower. If you have not experienced a good meteor shower before, I highly recommend the effort of bundling up and heading outside to check it out. Although we often tried to see meteors when I was a kid, the timing or location never seemed to work out to see very many. When I was in college I took Astronomy. As a course requirement we all got geared up and ventured outside at around 2:00 AM to view the peak of a winter meteor shower. It was spectacular. I counted 200 shooting stars and then stopped to just enjoy the rest.
     The Geminid meteor shower occurs as Earth passes through the debris of an extinct comet named 3200 Phaethon. As this happens we see meteors flying from the constellation Gemini, hence the name: Geminid meteor shower. During the nights of December 13th and 14th if you are in a dark, rural location at the appropriate time you might see up to 120 meteors an hour. It looks like we are in a good position to see some meteors before the wee hours, so head on out after dark and see what you can see!
     There are several methods to locate the constellation Gemini in the night sky. If you live in the Northeast and are good with a compass, look in the east-northeast sky within 3 hours of sunset. You can also use a star wheel like this one to help determine the location. Another excellent tool for orienting yourself to the night sky is Google's Sky Map app. With the app you hold your phone or device up toward the sky and it shows what you should be seeing in your location. Gemini is the constellation of the twins, and as the meteor shower is going on the Google Sky Map view looks as if one of the twins has crazy hair! You can't miss it! If you have downloaded the Stellarium planetarium software that I have mentioned in other posts about astronomy, you can set the time and date and search for Gemini. Once you've spotted it, do yourself a favor and turn off the tech so that you can appreciate the real-life experience of watching the meteor show!
     I am looking forward to going out to view the meteor shower over the weekend. I hope that you can experience it too. Happy star-gazing!

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