Last modified: Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Geminid meteor shower is year's best
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dec. 1, 2005
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Geminid meteor shower is usually the best of the year, but that might as well be a secret. Seeing it requires waiting outdoors in the biting cold of a dark December night, trying not to think of reasons to be someplace much warmer.
This year's Geminid shower will peak on the night of Dec. 13-14, just a day before the full moon. Skywatchers normally can expect to see 60-70 meteors per hour at the peak, but this time only the brighter ones are likely to be visible because of the moonlight. City lights will add to the problem, so try to get away from them if you can. Start watching at midnight local time to see the most activity, though some meteors will appear as soon as the sky is completely dark.
The meteors or "shooting stars" will seem to be coming from a point called the radiant near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, which gives the shower its name. The radiant will be well above the eastern horizon a few hours after sundown and will remain high in the sky for the rest of the night. The higher the radiant is above the horizon, the more meteors there will be. Try facing southeast if you have a clear view in that direction, though meteors will be visible in all parts of the sky. For details about the Geminid shower, see http://comets.amsmeteors.org/meteors/showers/geminids.html.
To stay comfortable in the frigid night, wear several layers of your warmest clothing and keep a thermos of hot coffee, tea or chocolate handy. If necessary, go indoors from time to time to warm up. No special equipment is needed to watch a meteor shower. Just enjoy the spectacle as the bright objects streak across the sky.
More information about meteor showers is available at http://comets.amsmeteors.org/, a site sponsored by the American Meteor Society.
Bright yellow Saturn will rise in the east-northeast around 9 p.m. local time at the beginning of December and about two hours earlier by month's end. At midnight it will be well up in the east. It will be highest in the south before dawn, about midway between the bright stars Pollux and Regulus. Those with telescopes will have a fine chance to view the planet's famous rings. Even a small telescope should show Saturn's biggest moon, Titan, which is larger than the planets Mercury and Pluto. If you stay out late to observe Saturn, your telescope will show Titan east of the planet by about four times the width of Saturn's rings.
Jupiter will rise earlier each day during December and shine brightly high in the southeast in morning twilight. The fainter star Spica will be off to its upper right (south).
Mercury will have its best appearance of the year in December, rising each day to the lower left (east) of Jupiter at the start of morning twilight. At its highest point around Dec. 12, Mercury will rise almost two hours before the sun and be about half of Jupiter's elevation above the east-southeastern horizon a half hour before dawn.
Venus is the dazzling white "evening star" that you've been seeing in the southwest during and shortly after dusk each day. During the first two weeks of December, Venus will glitter the highest and brightest it will be in the evening sky for all of 2005 and 2006. After that it will rapidly fade and drop toward the horizon.
Mars will appear high in the southeast each evening as the sky darkens, losing brightness as the month passes but still brighter than any star visible at that time.
The sun will reach its southernmost point in the sky, called the December solstice, on Dec. 21 at 1:35 p.m. EST (18:35 Universal Time). This will mark the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. For the next six months, the days will be getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Information about the December solstice, including the fascinating human history associated with it in many parts of the world, is available at http://www.candlegrove.com/solstice.html.
The moon will be new on Dec. 1, at first quarter on Dec. 8, full on Dec. 15, at third quarter on Dec. 23 and new again on Dec. 31.