Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 3, 2010

Where & When to Watch December 2010’s Vivid Geminids Meteor Shower

Sky map of where to find December 2010's Geminids meteor shower (Courtesy Astronomy.org)

The 2010 Geminid meteor shower, peaking the week of December 12-18, should be a good one. Why? The time when the most meteors can be seen should coincide with the time the moon is at the opposite side of the sky and in the process of dipping below the horizon. The less moon, the darker the skies; the darker the sky, the brighter the shooting stars!

The Geminids, created by the embers of a disintegrating asteroid, seem to be blasting out of the constellation Gemini (hence their name) just to the left of Orion, in the southwestern night sky.

Since this time of year Orion and Gemini are seen in the skies of the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere gets short-changed on this one.

The Geminids begin to be seen in early December at the rate of one or two an hour. But things gradually pick up.

The colorful Geminids (Spaceweather.com)

The fireworks will be best beginning late Monday night, December 13, and should continue until skies start to lighten the morning of Tuesday, December 14.

At their peak, this year’s Geminids could hurl flaming bits of meteors across the sky at a rate of 120-140 an hour. Adding to the spectacular sight: The Geminids are renowned as the most colorful of meteor showers.

Scientists point out December 13-14 is not the end of the Geminids, however, and more could be seen on in the next few nights after the peak. The problem, though, with those nights is that the moon is waxing – or getting larger each night. December 13 is actually the night of the half moon; it becomes larger, brighter – and more intrusive to meteor-viewing – and each night after that. It also sets later each morning.

So, where is a good spot for some star-gazing?

The generalization here is the darker the better, so that means getting away as far as possible from the light pollution of cities, street lights and civilization.

My favorite viewing spots are listed below. Most are in the Western Hemisphere, where I know best, that I guarantee are among the very best places to watch the Geminids.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate for you, or you just can’t get to a good viewing spot, you can actually watch this year’s Geminids on your computer! NASA says it will feature live webcams this year of the Geminids. Go to http://www.nasa.gov on the evening of Dec. 13 to log on.

Now for my meteor shower viewing location faves:

Time-lapse photo over the Anza-Borrego during a meteor shower (John Gonzalez Photo via Del Mar Fair)

1. The consensus pick seems to be Southern California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The skies are invariably clear here, and the ocotillo-studded desert is very sparsely populated. Mount Laguna, which overlooks the desert, is possibly even better. San Diego State University operates a small observatory there.

Mauna Kea Observatory is built around the rim of (hopefully) dormant volcano (Redorbit Photo)
2. Professional star-gazers swear by the 13-telescope complex at Mauna Kea observatory, atop the Big Island of Hawaii’s big volcano. The Visitor Information Station’s Onizuka Center for International Astronomy usually offers extended hours around meteor showers; expert astronomers are available to answer questions (this excellent article addressed a lot of mine). In my experience, however, Mauna Kea is too often cloud-bound.

The Sonoran Desert is magical at night (Photographer Unknown)
3. The sparklingly clear skies above the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and northern Mexico also offer ideal conditions. But the area hasbeen a bit of a battleground lately in the immigration and drug trafficking fights. Kitt Peak Observatory, 56 miles southwest of Tucson, is a great facility for star-gazers; but operators are increasingly concerned about the proliferation of light pollution from encroaching civilization (check out their cool webcam).
Kitt Peak Observatory photographed this famous “helios” nebula (Augustana.edu)

4. In South America, Chile boasts some of the best viewing locations – especially the desolate Atacama Desert. Bring water; it hasn’t rained there in more than 50 years!

5. “Color Country” in southern Utah – the high mountains above Zion National Park, west of Bryce Canyon National Park and north of the Grand Canyon North Rim – are remarkably beautiful viewing areas. The skies are generally pollution-free, and pitch-black.

Stellar shot of bright meteor over Zion National Park (Greenpacks.org)

6. Oregonians swear by the wide open spaces near Bend and Sun River, especially up in the mountains. Sun River even has a small observatory, but in my experience, it is too often closed.

Meteorite streaks over Oregon skies (Courtesy Oregonlive.com)

7. Speaking of observatories, CalTech’s Palomar Mountain Observatory north of San Diego, boasts one of the world’s finest telescopes. But the facility is closed to the public after 4:30 p.m., so as not to interfere with ongoing scientific studies. But there is a campground on the darker east side of the mountain, where star-gazers traditionally gather to watch the night skies.

This comet, photographed by Lowell Observatory, is a meteor of gigantic proportions.

8. Historic Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona, is open – and offering several programs around the meteor shower. Hard-core star-gazers also cluster at the famed meteor crater near Flagstaff. Everyone has their fingers crossed for clear skies. (Lowell also operates telescopes in La Serena, Chile, and Australia.)

Meteor streaks toward impact at Joshua Tree National Park (Courtesy NASA)

9. Joshua Tree National Park, north of Palm Springs, California, also offers almost a guaranteed prospect of clear skies and a dark night, far from the light pollution of cities.

Leonids meteor mirrored in water at Cherry Springs State Park (Courtesy Meteorblog.com)

10. What is purported to be the darkest spot in the eastern United States is at remote Cherry Springs State Park near Coudersport, Pennsylvania. The park attracts East Coast star-gazers year-round, and a popular annual event here is the Black Forest Star Party.

The sea, at night, can also be an unforgettable location for viewing heavenly delights. Cruise lines advertise expeditions to watch comets, eclipses and northern and southern auroral displays. but in my experience, however, cruise ships keep on way too many lights – all night.

See a sky calendar for celestial events, such as the Geminids, the Perseids each August and the Leonids in November, through 2015, click here.

Star-gazing is, to me, the ultimate democratic exercise: Anyone can do it. And when you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are.

Jerry Garrett

December 3, 2010

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Good job Jerry, thanks.

    • Thank you, Bobby. Best wishes for the holidays.

  2. […] this, but the possibility is there for a couple of shooting stars, as well. As mentioned in another column of mine, the Geminids meteor showed started in early December and was scheduled to reach its peak Dec. […]

  3. […] for another celestial event on December 14 when the colorful Geminid meteor shower will peak (as I noted about last year’s Geminids, it is one of the year’s best). The moon will still be too bright and close to the origin of […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: