Geminid meteor shower: how to observe its peak in the night sky

Night sky enthusiasts prepare to enjoy one of the best meteor showers of 2021, the Geminids, which peaks Monday evening through Tuesday ...


Night sky enthusiasts prepare to enjoy one of the best meteor showers of 2021, the Geminids, which peaks Monday evening through Tuesday morning.

Along with the Perseids in the summer, the Winter Geminids are one of the most anticipated meteor showers of the year, potentially producing a hundred or more spectacular footage per hour crossing the skies.

The Geminids originate from an asteroid called the 3200 Phaethon that orbits the sun every 1.4 years, scattering pieces of itself as it travels. These tiny boulders slam through our atmosphere, creating dazzling trails of light as they burn. As Earth enters Phaethon’s debris field, the resulting meteors all appear to burst from a point in the sky, called a radiant, where the constellation Gemini is located, hence the meteor shower’s name. Other showers come from comets.

While you can see them tonight, the Geminids put on an unusual spectacle for a few lucky viewers in December 2020.

Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft who is also a photographer, a asteroid researcher and one cookbook author, traveled near Pinto Canyon in the Big Bend area of ​​Texas during a particularly impressive Geminid downpour when the moon was new and therefore caused little interference.

Dr Myhrvold built a custom set of four cameras that allows him to take a large part of the sky at once, and he used that to record last year’s show. After processing and combining images from thousands of different exhibits, he noticed that there were meteors in his images from several different points and not just from the constellation Gemini.

“Because it was very dark and I had this special camera array, we simultaneously captured meteors from six different showers,” Dr Myhrvold said.

The other showers in the photo are minor showers, and they weren’t near their peaks, so they only produced a few faint meteors. With the Geminids, Dr. Myhrvold managed to see streaks of Sigma Hydrids, Leonis Minorids, Comae Berenicids, Monocerotids, and Puppid-Velids.

“I expected to see an image where all the lines came from a single radiant,” Dr Myhrvold said. “While there were a ton of them Geminids, it turns out there were six radiant.”

Capturing meteors from so many sources at once is very rare, and viewers shouldn’t expect to see anything similar this year. But you can still enjoy the show.

The Geminids peak between December 13 and 14.

Due to the bright moon, which is nearly full and will be above the horizon for part of the night, this year’s Geminids should be harder to see than usual, possibly with a meteor. per minute in dark sky conditions, said William Cooke, who heads NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office.

The moon sets around 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning, so the best chance to see the shower in all its glory is between that date and sunrise, regardless of your time zone.

For those who wish to see the most impressive display, Dr Cooke advised going to as dark a place as possible, away from city lights.

“If you’re in the middle of downtown Manhattan, go somewhere else,” he said.

Viewers should give themselves 30-45 minutes to adjust their eyes to the dark, then lie flat on the ground in a position that allows them to admire as much of the sky as possible. “Most importantly, don’t look at your cell phone,” Dr Cooke said. “You’re going to ruin your night vision. “

While the Geminids are originally from the constellation Gemini, meteors will be visible all over the sky. Binoculars or telescopes are unnecessary, as meteors pass too fast to be captured in their telescopes.

It’s December, so it’s best to bundle up and bring a thermos of something warm to drink. “Watching meteors takes time,” said Dr Cooke. “Mother Nature is not very attached to comfort. “

If you miss the peak tonight, the shower will continue for the next few days. Early Wednesday morning is another good opportunity to catch the Geminids.

Cell phone cameras are generally not sensitive enough to record meteors, as the footage is only a few seconds long.

While you can’t take a photo like Dr. Myhrvold’s without a custom setup, if you have a digital camera you can try your hand at astrophotography. Dr Myhrvold recommends placing a camera on a tripod with a wide-angle lens, then setting a long exposure of around 10 seconds. Then sit back, stay warm, and enjoy the show with your own eyes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Geminid meteor shower: how to observe its peak in the night sky
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