Meteors will soon start streaking through the sky thanks to the Geminid Meteor Shower. In two days, the night of December 13/14 will mark the peak of the Geminids for 2013. However, despite what most of the news media may lead you to believe, there is a lot more to the Geminnid shower than the night of the peak. While most news outlets only focus on the peak night, the fact is that the Geminds are already blazing trails through the sky.
Unlike what may have been suggested by most non-astronomical news sources, the Geminid shower lasts for about two weeks, a week on either side of the peak night. Why? The shower is caused by Earth running into a trail of space debris from a mysterious object called 3200 Phaeton. Think of it as a rainstorm. When driving into a rain shower, the rain does not come and go in a sudden burst. Likewise, the trail of cometary debris is the same way in that it starts very light, gets thicker until the deepest point is reached, and then starts lightening up again until the Earth passes completely through. The shower is called the Geminid because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini.
Every December, Earth passes through the stretch of space junk, reaching the deepest concentration on the night of December 13/14. According to some estimates, under ideal conditions (dark country skies), one can expect to see 60 meteors per hour come peak night. The best time to view is in the wee hours of the morning as Gemini is at its highest at this time, just about due South. To improve odds of seeing meteors, travel out oflight-polluted Cleveland and to the suburbs or, even better, the country if you can. In the suburbs, just going from the front to back yard can make a dramatic difference, too.
Unfortunately, the Moon is going to be near Full at the time of the Geminids, which means some serious lunar glow most of the night. The good news is that the Moon won't be able to outshine the brightest of meteors, though. .
As always, would-be sky watchers in the Cleveland area should be sure to keep an eye on the Cleveland weather forecast and, for hour-by-hour cloud predictions, the Cleveland Clear Sky Clock. Live somewhere else? Find a clock and see if it will be clear near you.
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