The Gemenids Meteor Shower for 2010 will be peaking this week in the night sky. The evenings of December 13 and 14 will be prime time for watching the Constellation Gemini. The Geminids sky map shows the brightest star, Castor, in Gemini. Like other major meteor showers, the debris has a source, in this case the extinct comet, 3200 Phaethon. Due to the rich rocky debris, Geminids meteoroids are several times denser this to the relatively slow speed, many scientists believe that 3200 Phaethon may have been an asteroid. The Gemenid meteor shower first became noticed during the late 19th Century, adding to the speculation that 3200 Phaethon may had collided with another of the near-Earth objects, asteroids whose orbits about the Sun intersect, or come close, to that of Earth’s. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke says that the best viewing time begins at about 11pm, local time (wherever you happen to live) till 5am. Meteor experts from NASA will host a live chat on Monday, December 13 at 3pm EST. The Gemenids meteor shower of 2009 was spectacular, and this year should be as well. On December 20th, a total lunar eclipse will thrill those in the Northern hemisphere as well.
As I always say in these articles I do about meteor showers there are three ways to best enjoy viewing them. First, the naked eye is just fine, but make certain that you pick a location with few obstructions that block your view. Ideally, you want a clear shot from the horizon upwards, especially in the Eastern through Southern directions of the night sky. Binoculars are also terrific, provided that they are good ones. The infamous 7×50 ‘Night Glasses’ are perfect as they provide a wide angle of viewing and just enough magnification to make objects brighter. You do not need high magnification, since there is no real detail to see. But a good pair of binoculars, like 7×50 or 10×80 are mini-light-buckets, that will make fainter objects brighter and easier to see.
The third way to enjoy the Gemenids meteor shower, or any of the other annual meteor showers, is by using a camera. Preferably a single-lens-reflex, or SLR, optic system. The camera should be one that allows you full control of the shutter. For meteor showers, the idea is to set up your camera, with a good, sturdy mount, open the shutter and allow about 10-15 minutes per exposure. As the Earth rotates, stars will appear as short smudges as they move slowly across the night sky. Meteors, however, will appear on the film as long streaks.
The Gemenids meteor shower for 2010 will be peaking tonight between 11pm and 5am. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke says that during tonight’s peak viewing, the night sky should show 40-50 meteors per hour, with as many as 120 per hour. The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, and Geminids meteoroids are several times denser this to the relatively slow speed. This is due to the rocky debris left over from the extinct comet, 3200 Paethon, first noticed in the late 19th Century.