Sky Watch: Get ready for the Geminids


Take your winter coat and mittens, serve some coffee, go out and look up: The Geminid meteor shower possibly the most robust shooting stars of 2017, peaks on the night of December 13th to 14th.

The International Meteor Organization ( predicts the Geminids will give a good show starting at 10 p.m. m. December 13 and continues throughout the night.

The waning crescent moon will be in the last quarter phase, so it will not bathe meteors in light. (The moon will rise at 3:43 am on December 14, according to the US Naval Observatory.)

Both the IMO and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada predict that rainfall will reach a maximum of 120 meteors per hour, provided there are dark and clear skies. The Geminids can be bright and of intense color, according to the IMO. So turn off the porch lights, get away from the streetlights and look at the cold sky.

In general, meteor showers come from the dusty tails of comets. When comets approach the sun, they heat up and form a tail, spewing steam and dirt. When the Earth rounds the sun in its annual 365-day journey, the atmosphere of our blue planet inevitably hits the earth with these traces of surplus comets. The dust burns in our atmosphere, ignites and shoots through our skies.

But the Geminids happen thanks to an asteroid: (3200) Phaethon (pronounced FAY-ah-thon), a rocky entity about three miles in diameter that sails close to the sun, heats up and throws fragments. When the Earth comes across these rocks, they burn.

In addition to the full moon tonight (December 3), the largest year, according to the Royal Astronomical Society, the planets Jupiter and Mars begin to play a game of cosmic label now and until January. Before dawn, find the planetary pair in the southeast sky. The large gaseous Jupiter is -1.7 magnitude (bright), well below dark and reddish Mars (1.7 magnitude, difficult to see in urban and suburban conditions polluted by light).

As the month progresses, Mars lights up and the two planets seem to move together in late December for a conjunction at the beginning of the new year.

Venus Saturn and Mercury are taking vacations, hiding in the glow of the sun probably drinking cosmic mai tais. The Mercury fleet (zero magnitude, bright) returns to the morning skies at the end of December in the southeast, appearing above the horizon. Before dawn, look in the direction of the bright Jupiter, then look down towards the horizon and then to the left to find Mercury.

Our darkest days may soon be behind us. The next solstice begins the winter season here in the northern hemisphere on December 21 at 11:28 a.m. Eastern time, according to the Naval Observatory. From December 20 to 22, the Washington area has nine hours and 26 minutes of daylight, the smallest amount throughout the year. As of December 23, we will enjoy a large amount of sunlight for more hours (nine hours and 27 minutes), and will increase until June.

Earth-related events

● Dec. 4 – Preview the fall and winter skies in "Stars Tonight" at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St ., Arlington, along with Washington-Lee High School. 7:30 pm. $ 3.

● Dec. 5 – Appreciate undergraduate astronomical research at the University of Maryland Observatory in College Park. Then, contemplate the night sky through the telescopes, weather permitting. 8 p.m.

● Dec. 9 – "Black holes on all scales: an X-ray view", a talk by the physicist Mario Gliozzi of George Mason University, at the ordinary meeting of the Astronomers of the National Capital, held at the Observatory of the University of Maryland at College Park. 7:30 pm.

● Dec. 10 – Find out about telescopes and binoculars at the show-and-tell and swap meeting of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, 163 Research Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax.
7 p.m.

● Dec. 20 – "TESS: The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite", a talk by Professor of Astronomy Drake Deming, will explain NASA's exoplanet hunting mission, planned for launch in the spring. Exoplanets are planets in other solar systems.

The talk will take place at the University of Maryland Observatory in College Park. Reach the dark skies through telescopes later, weather permitting. 8 p.m.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at [email protected]

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