Astronomical Advisory: Geminid meteors start before midnight
Rosman, NC (December 6, 2017) – Astronomers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) remind the public of the annual Geminid Meteor Shower.
Meteors result from particles of dust causing the atmosphere to glow as the particles enter the upper atmosphere of the Earth. Following over a century of searching, astronomers in 1983 determined that the parent body for the debris that causes the Geminids is the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This is unusual since most meteor showers are caused by debris from comets, not asteroids. Nevertheless, as Phaethon orbits the Sun, it sheds dust particles that remain as a trail of debris in its path. Since the Earth encounters this trail of debris at the same point in space each time it makes its annual revolution around the Sun, we observe the Geminids on the same date each year, around December 13-14.
The Geminid Meteor Shower is one of the more reliable showers. In 2017 the Geminids are calculated to reach a peak of about 120 meteors per hour around 1 a.m. EST on December 14. Thus, the best times for observing should be overnight on the 13-14th. This year a waning crescent moon will be in our predawn skies so its light will present minimal interference with observations of fainter meteors during prime observing hours. Successful observing of the Geminids can start as early as 10 p.m. and continue until dawn as the constellation of Gemini the twins rises higher in the sky. In addition, Geminids should be seen for a night or two around the peak. One should observe from a clear, dark location with a good horizon.
Give it a try; look to the northeast for meteors appearing to radiate out of the constellation of Gemini the twins. Binoculars or telescopes are not needed to observe meteors.