Thursday, December 13, 2012

Look! Up in the sky! it's a bird, it's a plane, it's the Geminid Meteor Showers

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I don't pretend to be an accomplished skywatcher (although back in the day, I did produce a video called Skywatching...), but dang if I don't let myself get caught up in the occasional celestial event. Like the last time the planets were in transit (three or four all visible at once, in a line.) Or the summer that Mars was as close to earth as it will be for the next gajillion years.

Eleven years ago I was introduced to the Leonid Meteor showers.  Every 33 years the Leonids peak and in 2001 there promised to be a great show. I set my clock for four a.m. when the viewing was supposed to be best in my part of Connecticut. I sat bundled up on my deck in a resurrected chaise (it was November) and waited. I have very little light pollution where I live so it didn't take long. I saw so many meteors I lost count at about 200. I ran inside to wake my husband who mumbled an earnest appreciation for my newfound astronomical (!) enthusiasm and then rolled over.

Tonight I will try again. This month the Geminid meteor showers (they appear to originate from the constellation Gemini but don't really) will be best seen tonight when there is no moon. Get out the blanket and the thermos of hot chocolate. If you've never seen one it's a sight not to be missed. With all the talk of "stars" like Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan, why not take a look at a few real stars? There should be hundreds of them tonight with no paparazzi in sight.



From the American Meteror Society's FAQs page
http://www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/meteor-faq/#5

Most meteor showers have their origins with comets. Each time a comet swings by the sun, it produces copious amounts of meteoroid sized particles which will eventually spread out along the entire orbit of the comet to form a meteoroid “stream.” If the Earth’s orbit and the comet’s orbit intersect at some point, then the Earth will pass through this stream for a few days at roughly the same time each year, encountering a meteor shower. The only major shower clearly shown to be non-cometary is the Geminid shower, which share an orbit with the asteroid (3200 Phaethon): one that comes unusually close to the sun as well as passing through the earth’s orbit. Most shower meteoroids appear to be “fluffy”, but the Geminids are much more durable as might be expected from asteroid fragments.

Because meteor shower particles are all traveling in parallel paths, at the same velocity, they will all appear to radiate from a single point in the sky to an observer below. This radiant point is caused by the effect of perspective, similar to railroad tracks converging at a single vanishing point on the horizon when viewed from the middle of the tracks. Meteor showers are usually named for the constellation in which their radiant lies at the time of shower maximum. Thus, the Perseid meteor shower (peaking about August 12) will appear to radiate from the constellation of Perseus, while the Leonid meteor shower (peaking about November 18) will appear to radiate from the constellation Leo.

20 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Rosemary: I’ve got my thermos [coffee, of course] and my blanket and I’m on my way out the back door . . . comet-watching, meteor showers . . . it’s all good.

Karen in Ohio said...

Oh, yes, the Leonids in 2001. We took the kids up to a local park far enough from the center of town to have less light pollution. It was so much fun--tons of families with lawn chairs and their kids, and all of us oohing and aahing over the hundreds of meteors.

This year I've been at our farm for three meteor shower nights, one of which had perfect viewing potential, but I've seen only one meteor. Tonight should be good here: clear skies, dark of the moon, and the meteors are supposed to peak early, even before midnight. And it won't be quite as cold as it has been lately. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for us all for good viewing results!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

When my father passed away this year we three siblings talked about some of our favorite times with him.

Each of us vividly recalled Dad getting us in our turn up in the middle of the night at our camp in Canada and rowing us into the middle of the lake to watch the Perseid meteor showers in August.

And my children hopefully have similar memories of being paddled into another lake to see the same showers a generation later.

~ Jim

Jungle Red Writers said...

So glad I'm not alone in this!

Rosemary Harris said...

That's a wonderful memory, Jim, I'm sure you're making great ones for your kids, too!

Edith Maxwell said...

What time are they expected in New England tonight, Ro? It looks like it will be clear and cold here in northern Mass! I get up for work at 4:45 AM anyway, so maybe I'll just set the clock half an hour earlier.

I tried to catch the Leonids in November but only saw one before I got too cold and stiff.

And bringing this conversation back to murder, one could imagine mayhem in the dark during a meteor watching, right?

Hallie Ephron said...

Leonids! 2001!! My husband and I took sleeping bags outside (it was COLD and clear) and lay there watching. It was amazing (though nothing like that picture). Seems like every "meteor shower" night since it's been cloudy or the shower is a bust. Hoping!

Terri Herman-Ponce said...

I have a fascination for the cosmos and meteor showers, and one of the most wonderful memories I have with my son is the Leonid meteor showers in 2001. We were out there, in the wee hours of the morning, watching the display. I'll see if I can do that again tonight - so far we've got a very clear day and night ahead of us!

Karen in Ohio said...

Edith, yes! Our farm in Kentucky (only 40 miles from downtown Cincinnati, but where we can see the Milky Way) is sort of remote, but there are also critters roaming around at night, including skunks, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and coyotes. It scares me a little to think about sitting out in the grass, alone, in the dark, I can tell you. I don't even want to think about the human element!

Rosemary Harris said...

Hallie, that pic is a 19th century engraving with, no doubt, more than a little artistic license, but, hey we can hope. Good idea getting out the sleeping bag...
Edith, I'll probably go out at around 10pm to see if there's any action, but plan to stay up rather than wake up. I don't think I've read anything about exact times but you might check local news programs.

Denise Ann said...

I just checked cbs.com, which said that the showers would begin at 10 p.m. and peak around 2 a.m. (EST)

Darlene Ryan said...

It's very cold here, but the sky is supposed to be clear. I'm going to look for the sleeping bag and my teddy bear coat.

Deb said...

Erg! We have big trees AND light pollution. But fortunately not as cold here tonight as the last few nights. Will bundle up and give it a try!

I'm a Gemini, so even if they don't really come from Gemini, maybe it will give me luck:-)

Thanks for posting, Ro!

Anonymous said...

Ro, this was all very exciting! Since I've lived in Manhattan a zillion years I've not seen any of these wonders lately... but it takes me back to my wonderful days at the Girl Scout Camp on Lake Prince in Suffolk, VA, where we would lie out on the lake dam at night and learn all the constellations! Thelma in Manhattan

Jan Brogan said...

Thanks Ro,

and thanks Denise Ann for the exact time. I am actually keeping a sky journal for a story I am doing for the Globe so this s perfect.

Will head out with my parka and a thermos of tea.

Reine said...

Hi Ro,

I'm trying to figure when we can see this in Tucson... not having much luck but will keep trying!

xoxo

Deb Romano said...

Since I do not "do" cold weather activities and probably have too much light around here at night anyway, I will rely on all of you who get to experience it to share it! Thanks in advance:-)

One of the best Adult Ed classes I ever took was an Astronomy class around ten years ago. Sadly, the teacher moved out of the area and the class is no longer offered.

Reine said...

Okay... now it's raining, so there will be no good time for us to view the meteor showers! :(

Karen in Ohio said...

So did any of you see meteors? I went out at about 11:30 and sat out on the patio, bundled up to my nose, for about 45 minutes or so. Saw more than a dozen in the first 20 minutes or so, about half of them really good ones. Then there didn't seem to be any more. I decided to go in before I froze solid.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

We saw them, we saw them!! Hurray!!