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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Geminids Meteor Shower Peaks on the Night of December 13, Morning of December 14

The Geminids meteor shower peaks this Saturday night and early Sunday morning. You can expect to see 60-80 meteors per hour under dark skies after midnight on Saturday night. However, the last quarter moon also rises then, and its light will block out the dimmer members of the shower. The Geminids, however, are known for many bright meteors so the show will go on despite the moon. (By the way, did you now that the full moon is 9 times brighter than the quarter moon? Well, now you do!)

The best way to view the shower is lying on the ground, looking straight up, with your naked eyes. Meteor showers are whole sky phenomena, so optical aids are not called for. You don't even need to know where the "radiant" is, although it helps in understanding meteor showers.

Meteor showers occur when the earth crossesthe orbit of an old comet or asteroid. Parts of the comet or asteroid are left behind as it orbits the sun, kind of like a messy family throwing garbage out of their car. When the earth encounters this debris as it orbits the sun, the bits of the comet or orbit fall to earth at great speed and burn up from friction, creating the light of the meteorite (also called a "falling star" or a "shooting star", since that's what they look like). Due to a perspective effect the meteors all appear to originate at a single location in the sky, if you draw a line back along their path. That location is callled the "radiant" the point from which the meteors appear to originate. In the case of the Geminids, they appear to originate near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini, hence the name of this shower. But you need not look directly at the radiant to get a good view of the shower. The Geminids originate from a small asteroid, 3200 Phaeton, which is the named asteroid with the closest approach to the sun.

The radiant of the Geminids meteor shower lies near the bright star Castor, one of the Twins in the constellation Gemini. Pollux is the other.

If you are down Mitzpe Ramon way, I will be having a free star party and star tour on Saturday night, starting at 9:30pm. No charge, come one come all. I will be at an observing location behind Mitzpe Ramon on the road to the Alpaca Farm and the Wise Observatory. It's the continuation of the main entrance to town, Ben Gurion Blvd., which begins at the traffic circle entrance to Mitzpe on Route 40.

The red "X" marks the spot of the star party on Saturday night, December 13.
I usually drive around to the hotels to pick people up for my star tours but will not be able to do so for this open star party. If you get lost call me at 052-544-9789. If I don't answer, I'm in the middle of doing part of my star tour

To find the star party: The location is marked by the red "X" in the above map. Drive up Ben Gurion Blvd., the main street in Mitzpe Ramon. Keep following it into the dark behind town toward the Alpaca Farm and Field School. In about 1 mile there is an intersection for the Alpaca Farm and Field School. Do not turn off. Drive through the intersection. In about 3/4 of a mile you will come to a small forest of pine trees on the left, easy to see in daylight, hard to see at night. You will probably see campfires on the left as there are likely to be people camping there to see the meteor shower. Drive to the end of forest and turn left on the unmarked, unpaved dirt road. Go around the forest to the far side. You will see me set up there. If you come to a dead end at the observatory you went too far on the paved road.

Happy Meteor hunting!!


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