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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight, but moonlight - again - to interfere


From NASA: “This fireball, caused by a Geminid meteor, is one of the largest ever recorded.” (Wally Pacholka/AstroPics.com via NASA )
The Geminid meteor shower, one of the year’s top night light shows, peaks tonight. But due to a nearly-full moon, the meteors will be somewhat more difficult to see. Nevertheless, NASA expects a decent showing between 10 p.m. local time and sunrise (on December 14)

“Observers with clear skies could see as many as 40 Geminids per hour,” predicts Bill Cooke of the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office.

EarthSky says the greatest numbers of meteors will occur one to two hours after midnight. Space.com notes the Geminids “can produce stunning fireballs.” (CWG reader sgustaf1 reported seeing a fireball “streak down the sky north of 66 in Gainesville at 3:50 a.m. this morning”)

The meteors, made up of the debris from near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon and ejected from the constellation Gemini, could appear anywhere in the sky.

“Dress warmly and look up,” says Cooke. “It’s that simple.”

Although NASA is optimistic the Geminids will deliver a spectacle, the full moon may cut the meteor output by a third according to Space.com:

“On a clear night, skywatchers have reported seeing up to 120 meteors per hour during the peak of the Geminids in previous years,” Space.com writes.

To overcome the effect of the moonlight, move away from light pollution towards a rural setting and, if you can, try to catch the shower before moonrise. After moonrise, EarthSky provides this tip: “...try to shade yourself from the moon’s light. Sit in the shade of a house, tree or mountain – but leave an otherwise open view of sky. “

The Geminids is the latest of the big ticket meteor showers to be compromised by unfortunate timing, especially in the U.S. The Perseids coincided with a full moon and the Draconids peaked during the day (in the U.S.). The Orionids occurred at a slightly more fortuitous time, when the crescent moon was waning and about 25% full.

Considering the East Coast of the U.S. missed out on both of the recent lunar eclipses (earlier this week and in June), there is no doubt a large contigent of disappointed skywatchers.

By  |  11:10 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Categories:  Latest, Astronomy, Space

 
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