08 December 2010

Geminid Meteor Shower 2010

One of the best Meteor Showers of the year takes place in favorable conditions on Monday night December 13th into the morning hours of December 14th. The shower is called the Geminids, named after the constellation Gemini. The Geminids appear to originate from the constellation Gemini which rises shortly after sunset and is high in the sky around midnight. This point in the sky is called the radiant, and if you trace the paths of the meteors backwards, they will all converge in this point.

Meteor showers generally get better late into the night because the Earth is rotated in the direction of its orbit around the Sun and consequently we encounter a higher number of meteors, on average. This is certainly true for the Geminids, and in dark conditions after midnight you might see 1 or even 2 meteors a minute. Being winter, you have to really prepare for this by dressing extremely well for your local conditions. I plan to get up early and look for Geminids in the early morning hours of Tuesday 14th, since the Sun does not impact the viewing until after 6:00 am.

This year is particularly favorable for the Geminids because the Moon is at First Quarter and will not be a factor after midnight. Stay warm and enjoy the show!

Image courtesy of Earth Sky.


The Urban Astronomer said...

I received this question via email:

Hi, I live in San Francisco and would like to take my 6 year old daughter to see the meteor shower tomorrow night....Where would you recommend going? Do you think the headlands would be dark enough? And what time? Thanks for any advice. Kim

My reply:

hi Kim - thanks for asking. I think the Headlands will be fine for viewing. The evening view will be more concentrated in the eastern part of the sky, so you want to position yourself so that looking east you are not looking into too much urban light. That will be tricky anywhere near SF, but don't despair. The most important three things for any meteor shower are (a) you put yourself in a location where you have a good view of the entire sky, and (b) you do not have any kind of light (street light, house lights, highway lights) shining directly into your eyes. That will allow your eyes to "dark adapt" making it much easier to see the faint meteors as well as the bright ones. And (c) wear very warm clothing, more than you think you will need, because you get colder faster when you are lying still on your back looking up at the sky. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

hey, where would you recommend going to watch the meteor shower today? i saw it last year on mt. tam. but if theres a better spot it will be great.

The Urban Astronomer said...

In the Bay Area, Mt. Tam is a very fine location because of the elevation and darkness. The rule here is to look for locations that have as little ambient light as possible. Costal locations are always good because most have very little light pollution, but inland locations this evening might be better due to the weather.

Our biggest problem tonight is going to be weather. The outlook is cloudy and I am not feeling very optimistic.

-- Paul

SoCalBlues said...

Hey I stumbled across your blog and was wondering if you knew of any areas near Long Beach that I could view the shower from?

The Urban Astronomer said...

hi SoCalBlues - you just need clear skies and a dark viewing location anywhere on Earth :-)

Things get going Monday evening. Face East for the view of the constellation Gemini as it rises in the evening, but look directly overhead during the night and early morning for meteors to be going in every direction.

Best of luck!

Ryan Wickre said...

I'm also trying to pick a good viewing location, ideally within an hour's drive of San Francisco. The weather predictions seem to say we'll see clouds all night up and down the coast, but I'm guessing South is better than North.

Do you have a viewing location recommendation in that direction? Perhaps somewhere off of Skyline Drive?

The Urban Astronomer said...

Hi Ryan - I've had excellent viewing of the night skies on Skyline Road. I used to live on the Peninsula and have been to the Open Space Preserve above Palo Alto where the sky above and to the west is very dark. The weather is unfortunately a factor, and a light fog or haze will make seeing difficult, since faint meteors will not be very easy to spot. Nonetheless, I'll be trying in the morning.

-- Paul

The Urban Astronomer said...

Report on the Geminids: From San Francisco they were a total rain-out. The sky was fully covered in rain clouds and there was not a Geminid to be seen. Next time!