The longest and darkest nights of the year are upon us and this makes great viewing for the annual Geminid meteor shower, which peaks Wednesday night. Last year, a super moon greatly interfered with the viewing of this event because the moonlight was so bright it overshadowed any meteors.

This year, the moon will not significantly hamper viewing. The moon is only 19 percent full Wednesday night and doesn’t rise until about 2:30 a.m. There’s plenty of viewing time before that.

One interesting fact about this meteor shower: The meteors radiate from fairly high above the horizon early in the evening.

Why does this matter? Because in other meteor showers you have to wait until the pre-dawn hours to really get a good view, but with the Geminid meteor shower, by 9 p.m. – and certainly by midnight – the radiant point will be almost overhead. The radiant point is where the meteors appear to originate, but since they streak across the sky, it’s not necessary to find it. Past Geminid meteor showers have displayed 100 to 200 meteors per hour.

A great night ahead for viewing the meteor shower. Sky and Telescope

Meteors are tiny pieces of space debris that burn up upon entering our atmosphere. Most of these are about the size of a grain of sand. Meteor showers are associated with comets or asteroids as the parent of all these little pieces of debris.

The Geminid meteor shower is associated with the near-Earth object 3200 Phaethon, which is an asteroid. The debris from the asteroid will give us our meteor show Wednesday night.

The Geminid meteor shower gets its name because the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini.

You don’t have to find the constellation but it can be fun to look for it. In order to find Gemini, look for Orion, which is easily identified by its three-star belt.

The Gemini constellation is to the right of that and above it.

Unlike eclipses, which last only a short time, you can see meteors on any clear night several days before and after the peak.

Skies should be mainly clear this evening for the meteor shower, one of the best of the year. WeatherBell

Light pollution from populated areas can cut in half the meteors that are visible. Nevertheless, some of the brightest meteors may even shine through the city lights of Greater Portland. However, I’d advise trying to get somewhere dark.

You could start looking for the showers around 9 p.m. and the show will continue up until 5 a.m. The weather looks as though it will cooperate, with just a few clouds around the area, especially after midnight, which might affect the viewing.

 I love anywhere near the ocean for viewing as there is a lot of sky. Remember to dress warmly.

Follow Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom

 

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.