Geminid Meteor Shower

December 12/13

Geminids of 2001 Geminids of 2002 Geminids of 2003

 

What is a meteor? 

A meteor is a shooting star, space dust about the size of a grain of sand. The dust hits the earthís atmosphere and burns up in a blaze of light. Where does space dust come from? Comets and asteroids pass through our solar system. These objects leave dust behind them. When earth crosses through these dust clouds we see a meteor shower. 

Geminids

There are two reliable meteor showers each year. These are the Perseids and the Geminids. Most meteor showers are left over debris from comets. The Geminids, however, are from an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon.

The Geminid meteor shower usually sees about 80 meteors per hour at its ZHR, Zenith Hourly Rate. The Zenith Hourly Rate is the time when the constellation is at its highest point in the sky when we cross through the thickest part of the dust cloud left by Phaethon.

When and Where

The Geminids radiate from the constellation Gemini. This constellation rises in the east and travels across the sky towards the west. On December 12th and 13th  we will see the first peak and on 13th & 14th we will see the second, larger peak. More at spaceweather.com (direct link to graphic on the peaks). The Geminid meteor shower is different than other meteor showers in that it has a good show before midnight, and is even better after that time.

Meteor Counts

Taking a meteor count is fun and easy.  There are many different ways that people take meteor counts. You will need a timer, paper, pencil/pen, light (preferably red) and warm clothes.

Remember to dress warm! Those winter nights can be quite chilly. You might also consider bringing a lawn chair to lean back in to view the sky. Some prefer to lay down a blanket and watch the show. Some hot chocolate is always helpful for the chilly nights:)

Astronomers use a red light to observe stars and astronomical events. Ones eyes must adjust to the lack of light at night. A white light is harsher on the eyes and it takes longer for the eyes to re-adjust to the darkness than it does if one is using a red light. Making a red light is easy. All you need is some red plastic to cover the end of the flashlight and you have instant red light:)

Set your timer to go off as often as you wish. Iíve used three minute intervals for the Geminids for several years now. Fellow HAS, Houston Astronomical Society, members have used one or five minute intervals. It is all up to you. Write the time you start observing. Every time you see a meteor then make a tally mark. When the timer goes off then block off the first time period. Write down the next starting time and begin your timer again. You can do the meteor counts for as long as you like.

It is really fun and interesting to take counts with someone else. Remember your meteor counts are just meteors that you see, not meteors that your friend sees. At the end of the session count up your tally marks and place them in a graph. Compare your numbers to your friend to see who saw more.

Reflection

Was there a pattern in how many meteors were seen? Generally meteor showers come in waves. An observer might see several within a few minutes and then none for a while. Taking meteor counts and creating a graph will help you see the frequency of meteors observed.

Did they all happen in the same part of the sky? The Geminids seem to come from an area in Gemini, hence the name of the meteor shower. It is best not to look directly at the constellation, but off to theh sides of it. Although the Geminids will be all over the sky, to be a true Geminid you should be able to trace the meteor back to the constellation Gemini. There are some meteors that will originate from different parts of the sky, these are sporadic meteors, not belonging to any meteor shower.

What colors were seen? Meteors come in many different colors. The Leonids tend to be green in color. The Geminids tend to be yellow, but come in many colors. Some meteors also leave trails that hang in the air for several seconds. These are more frequent in other meteor showers, but not uncommon in the Geminids.

Did some meteors change direction in flight? I have seen the Leonid and Geminid meteor showers for several years. During this time, myself and fellow HAS members have seen a few Geminids that change direction in mid-flight.

These are all very important questions to be asked of any meteor shower and help the observer understand and appreciate it more.

Example of Meteor Counts

I have completed two years of meteor counts on the Geminids. In addition to the meteor counts I like to take pictures and write a brief observation of the event, listing people who were with me and conditions during the counting.

You are welcome to view my Geminid meteor counts for 2002 and 2003 at my website at http://www.weatherfriend.com/astronomy/meteor/geminids/geminid_main.htm

I would love to hear of your observations and counts. If you have any questions please send them my way.

Thank you all for reading.

Christie Ponder.....wxstar3@hotmail.com

 

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