Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - 14

METEOR WATCHING

by Joe Rao

"It's the most wonderful time of the year . . ."
to see meteors!
ark Sunday, December 13th, on your calendar as Night
of the Shooting Stars. If skies are clear, you'll have a
chance to observe the brightest, most reliable, and prolific annual meteor shower.
There was a time not so long ago when such accolades
were reserved solely for the perennial midsummer performance staged by the August Perseids. But that was then, and
this is now.
Fifty years ago, the Geminids were considered a strong
second to the Perseids. But over the years the Geminids have
slowly increased in intensity, and around the turn of this
century they moved into top spot and show no sign of slackening any time soon.
Although the Geminids now surpass the Perseids, without doubt December's frequently cloudy weather and cold
temperatures have worked against the display, at least from
the perspective of skywatchers north of the tropics. There's
no question that if the Geminid meteors occurred during a
warmer month, they'd be as popular as the Perseids.
Relaxing on a reclining chair for a few hours is a wonderful way to enjoy the sight of shooting stars . . . so long as it's
summer. However, it's a different story in mid-December
when you might be subjected to blustery winds, fast-moving
clouds, and frigid temperatures. Only a nut would forego
a nice warm bed to be outdoors in such conditions. But
I'll wager that the nuts will be out in force on the night of
December 13-14 for a chance to catch a few "Gems."
Unlike 2019, viewing circumstances for the Geminids this
year are nearly perfect. Last year, the display was "mooned
out" by a waning gibbous that shone like a dazzling spotlight
from the very constellation the Geminid meteors appear to
radiate from. And the shower's peak took place during daylight hours in North America, ensuring that most observers
missed the best part of the show. By contrast, this year the
Moon will be new on December 14th (at 16:17 UT, 11:17 a.m.
EST), so there won't be the slightest bit of lunar interference.
There's more good news. The shower's 2020 maximum is
forecast to occur around 1h UT on December 14th. That corresponds to the early evening hours of the 13th across North
America. The Geminids, however, tend to remain close to
their peak strength for about 8 to 10 hours both before and
after maximum, meaning we'll have a front row seat for this
year's presentation. And it should be good. According to the
International Meteor Organization (IMO), rates of up to 150
per hour - more than two per minute - are possible from
dark-sky sites.

M

PE TR HOR Á LEK

How to Prepare

14

In his 1946 guidebook A Primer for Stargazers, Henry Neely
wrote about observing the Geminids and offered this recommendation: "Take the advice of a man whose teeth have
chattered on many a winter's night - wrap up much more
DECEMBER 2 02 0 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

Get Ready
warmly than you think is necessary."
How true!
No two observers prepare for a meteor vigil the same way.
I find it helps to have had a late afternoon nap, a shower, and
to wear all fresh clothing. Break out that summer recliner
and either snuggle into an insulated sleeping bag or wrap
yourself in a heavy blanket. When you sit quite still and close
to the rapidly cooling ground, you can easily become very
chilled. Be sure to bundle up evenly from head to foot, paying
special attention to preventing air leaks around your face,



Sky & Telescope - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - December 2020

Contents
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - Cover1
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - 1
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - Contents
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - 3
Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - 4
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