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March 25

If the sky happens to clear: Geminid Meteor Shower

Every December the crisp, clear Winter skies can be a prime viewing area for the annual occurrence of the Geminid Meteor Shower, which usually peaks in the middle of the month.

The earth is entering a stream of debris from an old rock comet called 3200 Phaethon. This remnant is the source of the annual Geminid meteor shower. This shower is not expected to peak until Dec. 14th, but a few early fireballs have been detected by NASA meteor cameras over the USA, two weeks early.

So go ahead and get out after dark, somewhere away from artificial lights, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to get used to the darkness. Then get a sleeping bag or a bale of hay or even break out the hammock, lay back and look up into an open spot in the sky, away from the moon. Give it at least a half hour, as meteors often come in bursts, with several (or even many) meteors in a short time, followed by a lull of nothing for an even longer time.

But the Geminids can be worth it, as they are usually pretty bright. While the heaviest activity usually happens around and after midnight, any time after dark on the 12th, 13th and 14th could yield an “earth grazer” which appears to skip along in the sky, often breaking up, and being very bright. These grazers are rare, but if you catch one, like I did in the Winter of ’67 or ’68, you will never forget it!

Geminid Frederic Church-Earthgrazer Meteor of 1860 (wikipedia.com)
Geminid Frederic Church-Earthgrazer Meteor of 1860 (wikipedia.com)

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