Geminid Meteor Shower This Week!

We’re in for a treat this Thursday night and Friday morning. One of the finest meteor showers of the year occurs on a moonless night. The annual Geminids produce an average of 60 to 120 meteors an hour. That’s one or two meteors every minute!

Peak time for the meteor shower is the early morning hours of Friday, the 14th. That’s when the shower’s radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to emerge, is high in the sky. To see the most meteors, the radiant must be a good distance above the horizon, else some of the meteors emerging from it are blocked from view by Earth.

A Perseid meteor streaks beside the Milky Way

A bright Perseid meteor streaks across the western North Carolina sky beside the Milky Way. I photographed this scene during the 2012 Perseid meteor shower. It is a stack of two exposures, one for the sky and one for the tent. I shot the sky at ISO 1600, f/2.8, 25 seconds. For the tent, I asked my friend Suzan Brand to sit in front in a camp chair and look through binoculars. Using an exposure setting of f/11, ISO 200, and the shutter on bulb, I fired a flash from inside the tent to create her silhouette. A yellow gel filter attached to the flash created the warm glow. The exposure for the tent shot was too low to allow anything in the sky to show up, so when I stacked the two images in Photoshop using the Lighten blend, only the tent and Suzan's silhouette was revealed from that frame.

 

Meteor showers are named for the constellation or brightest star that lies nearest the radiant, and in the case of the Geminids, that’s the constellation Gemini. Gemini will be relatively high above the horizon by 10pm on Thursday night, so you’ll want to start watching then and continue until dawn on Friday. If you can only view for a short period, try to be out around 2am on Friday morning.

Like most meteor showers, you can expect to see some activity in the days before and after the peak. For this year’s Geminids, your best chances of spotting a meter are from Tomorrow night (Tuesday) through Saturday morning.

The new moon occurs at 3:42am on Friday morning, making viewing conditions ideal. But you still need to get as far away from city lights and other light pollution as you can if you want to see the faintest meteors.

You don’t have to look toward the radiant to see meteors, as they can occur anywhere in the sky. In fact, you’ll probably see more meteors by looking away from the radiant. When you look directly toward the radiant, some of the meteors will come at you head on and won’t produce long streaks of light.

I’ve already made my plans for photographing the Geminids. I’ll have two tents set up in different locations for foregrounds, both with campfires and other assorted props. One will be for circular star trails around Polaris, the other for static stars.

Here’s an updated article about photographing meteors, which applies to the Geminids as well as any other meteor shower. It’s not any more difficult than photographing any other type of night-sky scene. It’s just a matter of luck.

Speaking of luck, as I keep reminding folks, “luck favors the prepared mind,” so I suggest you start preparing your mind for Thursday night and Friday morning!

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