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A fantastic year for the Geminid meteor shower

Mark the date: December 13. That's the night the Geminid meteor shower arrives. Highlighted by the return of his father 3200 Phaethon, this year's show promises to be one of the best of them all.

  Night too!

This should be a good year for the Geminids. There is almost no moonlight that interferes with the observation, and the rain reliably produces a high meteor count.

This is, the shower that we've been waiting for. Spend some time on the night of Wednesday 13-14 December for the Geminids. Not only is it the most prolific year, with up to 120 meteors per hour visible from rural skies, the Moon is essentially off the beaten track. When rising around 4:30 a.m. On the 14th, the waning half moon will shine only 3.5 ° north of the planet Jupiter in a conjunction of icing on the cake to complete the great event.

The Geminid's maximum also coincides with a brilliant return of his father asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. On the night of maximum, Phaeton will not be far away, crossing the neighboring Perseus at about 30 "per minute at its maximum expected magnitude of 10.7

Configure the range, see dad, and then stretch on the ground, properly isolated from the cold with a blanket or sleeping bag, and witness how your progeny ride a spectacular light show … To get detailed maps of the asteroid route, click on here .

A word about that rate is 120 per hour.That is the zenital hourly rate, or ZHR, an idealized number based on observing under a pristine, moonless sky with the radiant at the zenith.Depending on the time you observe and local light pollution, the counts will vary At my observation site, which is hampered by a celestial glow from low to moderate, I halved the rate to maintain realistic expectations.A meteor per minute is certainly nothing to complain about.

  Cr Orion Meteorological Geminids

During the 2004 Geminid meteor shower, Alan Dyer caught a bright ball of fire to the left of Orion with a digital camera mounted on a tripod. He used a 16mm wide field lens for a 1 minute exposure at f / 2.8 to ISO 800. Try it with your digital camera. 30 seconds in ISO 1600 also works and creates more precise stars. First, focus on a bright star using the "Live View" function located near the screen on your back screen, then compose the scene and take one picture after another. An intervalometer facilitates the taking of continuous time exposures when activating the shutter automatically. You can find one at most online camera supply stores.

Most of the important rains reach their peak in the early hours of the morning. While that is also true for the Geminids, the shower offers something that others do not: a morning afternoon. It can detect a modest amount of visible meteors beginning at 9 p.m. because the radiant is already about 30 ° high in the eastern sky. It is true that a lot of shower members are isolated by the horizon at that time, but it is likely that more of us will go out and share it with our children at night instead of waking up before dawn. As the Geminids travel at moderate to slow speeds and approach from a low angle at that time, they can produce bright and lasting fireballs.

  Top view

The view shown here is for 2 a. M. Thursday morning, December 1st. on December 14, when the radiant will be high in the southwest sky near the zenith.

If you want to experience the full power of the shower, set your clock for 2 a.m., when the radiant will be practically overloaded. The members of the shower seem to originate or radiate from near Castor and Pollux in Gemini, the Twins. It may seem strange that the radiant is a point in the sky until you realize that you are looking down vanishing point of the shower where the incoming meteorites converge in the distance, exactly the way the railroad tracks seem to be on the horizon.

As the Earth rushes into the debris left by the asteroid, each crumb leaves a hot vein of ionized air that we see as a meteor. Although they can appear anywhere in the sky, each fragment flies in parallel, like a B-52 squadron in a bombing. Only a faster skosh: approximately 35 kilometers per second.

Convergence makes it easy to distinguish a Geminid from a random or sporadic meteor. If you can trace the brilliant streak to the Twins, you can say with confidence that you've seen a millimeter fragment of an asteroid that burns in the atmosphere. Goodbye, spawn of Phaethon.

After having been razed by last year's super moon, we look forward to a really great show this year. Although northern hemisphere sky observers are favored, the Geminids are also visible with reduced numbers from Down Under, where the radiant is about 40 ° high from northern Australia around 2 a.m. local time. With numbers close to the peak that last about a day, the entire planet except Antarctica, where the Sun now shines 24 hours, will have a crack in the shower.

  Geminid Snow

This montage shows multiple Geminids blinking in the sky during the peak of 2012. This year's rain will not be compromised by moonlight, as were the Geminids of last year and the Perseids of this year.
Catalin Padraru

In summary: if you observe meteorites at night, leave around 9 p.m. local time or later and observe from a place as far as possible from the lights of the city. Bring warm clothing and a blanket or sleeping bag to snuggle and hug and look to the east. So, just lie back and wait for the meteorites to light up. Even 30 minutes of observation should generate some celestial sparks. If you want to reach the top, plan to look from approximately 1-3 a.m. to the south on Thursday 14 in the morning. Even 3-5 a.m. It works if you are interested in that conjunction.

The prospects for the Geminids this year are then well, only cloudy skies could soil it. But that will not happen, right?

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