Shooting stars are aloft tonight and may best be seen during the hour before dawn Saturday morning, from about 4:30 to 5:30.
December’s annual Geminid meteor shower is at peak; however, visibility is limited this year due to the light of the waxing (increasing in size) gibbous (larger than half) moon: bright moonlight washes out faint meteors. Nonetheless, Geminids are known to produce very bright, slow-moving meteors with long trails -- and even fireballs -- that would be visible through the sky glow tonight and Saturday night. Better yet, plan to be outdoors in the window of time after the moon sets and before dawn, when skies are fully dark.
Let’s make a pact to rouse ourselves at 4 a.m. Saturday, allowing time to slip into layers of warm clothing and get to an ample expanse of sky, preferably with an open view to the west, for an enchanted hour, a kind of 4th of July in December. All bundled up, stretch out in a sleeping bag on a reclining chair, or tarp, and gaze effortlessly to the heavens. Under optimum conditions, 60 to 120 falling stars per hour are expected during the hour before dawn on this peak morning.
Saturday night into Sunday before dawn may also hold some promise. Moonset Sunday morning is at 5:28 and complete darkness ends at 5:34, allowing about 10 minutes of pristine darkness. This meteor enthusiast has seen shooting stars in twilight, and so recommends venturing out for Sunday’s later, shorter opportunity as well.
Planet Jupiter, the brightest star-like object in the sky, guides us to the Gemini Twins in the west, the constellation from which the meteors seem to radiate.
The Long Night Moon reaches full phase on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 4:28 a.m. and rises at 5:02 p.m. in the east-northeast.
To contact Judy Isacoff go to: www.naturesturn.org