A meteor (from the Greek word meteōros, meaning ‘high in the air’) is the visible passing of a glowing comet, asteroid, rock or other solid object through Earth’s atmosphere. As it travels at extreme speeds across the night sky, a meteor creates a streak of light as a result of the aerodynamic heating causing it to glow. We know these streaks of light as falling stars or shooting stars, and it’s a beautiful moment to catch sight of one.
Millions of meteors occur in Earth’s atmosphere daily. When Earth passes through a stream of space debris left by a comet, a series of meteors appearing in the sky seconds or minutes apart in varying speed, frequency and brightness and all appearing to originate from the same fixed ‘radiant’ point is called a ‘meteor shower’. Named meteor showers reoccur about the same time each year.
The Geminids in December are usually the strongest meteor showers of the year and most reliable, with up to 100 meteors per hour radiating from a spot near the bright star Castor (the second-brightest star in the constellation of Gemini). Geminids peak shower activity happens December 13-14.
Find an area well away from city and street lights, and go prepared for cold temperatures along with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair. Lie flat on your back with your feet facing south and look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adjust, and you’ll begin to see meteors. Be patient, and enjoy the beauty of the night sky because the meteor show will continue until dawn — plenty of time to watch for the spectacular.
How & where to see the Geminids. Go to the darkest place you can find about 10:30pm local time. Give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark (BTW – Looking at a cell phone interferes with night vision). Lie flat on your back and look straight up, taking in as much sky as possible. Get Ready Stargazers: The Geminids Are Coming! (NASA Watch The Skies blog)
With scores of fast, bright meteors and large explosions of light and color called ‘fire balls’, the Perseids are active each year from mid-July to August (with a strong peak August 12 or 13) and are often the most impressive meteor showers for the Northern Hemisphere.
How to best enjoy the Perseids. Find a dark place where you can lie back on a blanket, sleeping bag, cot or chaise lounge away from city lights, and look straight up at the night sky. Give your eyes at least 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Don’t look directly at the constellation Perseus (where Perseids radiant is located) as you will see fewer meteors from that angle. No binoculars or telescope needed. In fact, it’s better to watch meteors with the naked eye because a wider field of view lets you see more of the sky. Expect to see about one meteor per minute, visible as faint streaks of light or a bright fireball. Enjoy the experience with friends!
Confused about whether or not the Perseids can be seen from your location? Take a look at this world map provided by Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA – Watch the Skies, August 13, 2010). The Perseids is visible to everyone, except at locations within the red shaded area.
List of Named Meteor Showers – Wikipedia
Geminids – NASA Science: Solar System Exploration
Perseids – NASA Science: Solar System Exploration
2019 Meteor Shower Calendar – American Meteor Society list of meteor showers around the world, including activity status, best viewing dates and moon phases that can affect visibility of showers.
Feature photo is courtesy of Austin Schmid/Unsplash CC0
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