13 December 2011

Geminid Meteor Shower 2011

The Geminids peak the nights of December 13th and 14th this year, one of the better meteor showers of the year. Unfortunately for 2011, most of the Geminids will be nearly invisible due to the very bright Moon that dominates the late night and early morning sky, when the Geminids are at their best.

The effect of a bright Moon on a meteor shower was vividly illustrated to me during the Total Lunar Eclipse a few days ago. I was at Ocean Beach on the west coast of San Francisco for the eclipse in the early morning hours. Facing west, Gemini was directly in front of us, dominating the western sky. As the brightness of the Moon faded, we began to notice meteors -- we were seeing some very early Geminid meteors, facing the radiant directly. I was very surprised at the stark contrast in meteor visibility from Full Moon before the eclipse started, to an ever-increasing amount of meteors over a very short period of time as the Moon, in effect, when through all of its phases in about 60 minutes. It reaffirms for me the huge difference a moonlit night makes when watching a meteor shower.

Although the meteors will be diminished for the Geminid Meteor Shower in 2011, I'll still take a look, since a big shower like this has plenty of bright meteors that pierce the night despite moonlight. If you want to read more about the Geminids, check out this interesting article about the Geminids radiant, from Earth Sky, from the LA Times, or this one from NASA Science News.

Image courtesy EarthSky.


Anonymous said...

I would love to have seen that, it sounds amazing. Sadly, I am yet to see one first-hand.

Swapna Joshi said...

Hi there. I live in SF and I'd like to see the Geminids tonight (wednesday night).

Where and when do you recommend I go? I find that fog usually clears up in the early morning hours. I was thinking of getting to ocean beach around 1 am and staying for a couple hours.

What do you think?


The Urban Astronomer said...

Ocean Beach should be fine. Important is a big sky and wide views because the meteors move in all directions. I saw two this morning from my backyard in SF this morning. Just find an upen space, lie back and be patient. And stay warm!

-- Paul

Swapna Joshi said...


I live in North Beach. it's pretty bright here and there are no backyards ;)

Do you know of any places closer to me? Most areas around here have streetlights and spotlights (even coit tower..), so I couldn't think of anything closer.


The Urban Astronomer said...

hi Swapna - North Beach is a very bright area, so your best bet is to cross the GG Bridge to Marin, or to go west to the beach since the sky is considerably darker in those sites.

Best of luck.

-- Paul