Over 100 an hour – Gemmy Geminids don’t disappoint

A bright Geminid meteor slices like a knife across the top of Orion last night. 20mm lens at f/3.2, ISO 800 and ~ 3 minute exposure. Photo: Bob King

What a night for meteors! I hope you had clear skies like we did here in northern Minnesota. From an observing spot on a snowy road 15 miles from home I watched as 70 Geminids tore across the sky. Some took my breath away. They arrived often enough that I soon grew addicted to the sense of anticipation. You knew the next one was coming soon but never exactly where and how bright. Would it be a fly speck or one of the shower’s trademark yellow fireballs?

I saw ones that were so brief and bright they looked exactly like sparks flying from an arc welder. Others burned steadily for a full second or two, leaving glowing trails. There were brief bursts of 2-3 meteors, lots of singles and occasional odd meteor-less gaps lasting five minutes or more. What I wouldn’t have given for a second set of eyes in the back of my head.

Two meteors shoot out Gemini in this single time exposure made in Cloquet, Minn. Credit and copyright: Matthew Moses

Even in 0 F temperatures and with work looming in the morning, it wasn’t easy to call it a night. Matter of fact, it was impossible. I went to bed at 1 and set the alarm for 3:30 a.m. to catch the peak. What a surprise to wake up and see ice fog slowly enveloping the stars. I just about turned back to bed, but a meteor flash through the window was motivation enough to dress up and go out for one last head-craning look skyward. Glad I did. At that moment, the most brilliant fireball of the night fell out of Gemini, illuminating the fog like some monster Roman candle burst.

Jim Schaff of Duluth, Minn. got a nice shot of Geminid zipping through the Big Dipper this morning.

According to the International Meteor Organization’s quicklook data for the Geminids, the shower peaked at 132 meteors per hour early this morning. More activity is in store today and tonight as Earth passes through the tail end of debris left by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. As for the other meteor shower forecast from Comet 46P/Wirtanen, I’ve heard only spotty reports. I saw only one suspect that may have been a member.

A green-tinted Geminid lights up a portion of the Ursa Major early this morning. Photo: Bob King

We normally have no sense of the Earth moving through space which it does every day at a clip of 18.5 miles per second. Not so last night. Seeing all those meteors fire up as our planet plowed through Phaethon’s debris cloud gave us a visceral sensation of Earth’s silent but swift circle around the sun.

Feel free to add your comments below, and if you have pictures, send them to me at: rking@duluthnews.com

Face southwest about 40 minutes to an hour after sunset to see the crescent moon and Mars tonight. Created with Stellarium

On a final note, the crescent moon returns to the twilight sky tonight. Take a look low in the southwest about 45 minutes after sunset (around 5 p.m. for Duluth, Minn.) to see a very young 1-day-old moon. It’s not far from Mars, but the planet is so faint right now because of its great distance from Earth, you’ll probably need binoculars to spot it.

11 thoughts on “Over 100 an hour – Gemmy Geminids don’t disappoint

  1. On my way home from work in Duluth to Blackhoof township in Carlton County around 2300 hrs I saw some pretty spectacular ones. One bright hot white ball with a matching streak to the west as I drove upThompson Hill. I really had to watch my speed on the freeway because I couldn’t wait to get home, grab the dog (and the hubby this time!) and get outside. What a spectacular show! Crystal clear skies and the kind of sharpness to the stars that only cold weather can produce made it a night to remember. Thanks for the heads up on this one – with all the holiday craziness, this is just what the doctor ordered !

  2. The clouds ruined my chances last night. Luckily I caught 89 the night before. If it clears up tonight I’ll try to catch some on the tail end of the stream.

  3. 7:58 Thursday pm driving south out of downtown Mpls. saw a very bright green meteor in SE sky about 45 degrees from horizon. Looked like a roman candle!

  4. Had beautiful clear skies, no fog till 6 am. Saw plenty of geminids, and lots of small meteors on the southern horizon from the other comet trail. they were short, approx 10 to 15 degrees. I live on the lake between Tofte and Silver Bay. So nice to have 2 shows going on at once!

  5. Hi Bob
    Great pictures of the meteor’s, never seen one :( . better luck next time.
    I was wondering if you could check out this video for me please
    mirrored from@litigator2015–https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGUK6WC9hFI&feature=youtube_gdata_player, it is the one that say’s incoming object update (mirrored), sorry but I can’t get the URL when i’m on it, someone has said it was c/2012 V4, which going by the date it maybe could have been, or someone else has said it is just a lens flare caused by earth which is just to the right of the frame, and it should disappear in a few day’s, but I have not got a clue how to use it, so it could be away by now as the date it was originally uploaded was 9 December, also someone else had said it is earth and jupiter, the tiny one a bit higher up is mercury, or it could be G1.9., so I think some people are just doing a guess, so that’s why I thought maybe you could throw some light on it please Bob, also in the video where it is said where earth and jupiter is another person said that it’s not it is Castor and Pollux, the large object is the earth starting to come into view, I have not got a clue at all, so fingers crossed you do. Thanks Bob :)

    • Lynn,
      This guy is seriously in need of some fact-checking. The two bright objects at the top of the video – the ones he calls Earth and Jupiter – are the stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini. Compare them and the other stars around them with a star map of Gemini and you’ll see what I mean. The bright object at right is Earth entering the field of view of STEREO B (http://1.usa.gov/Waitud). I would advise against taking anything he says seriously in spite of his “I’m not an actual astronomer” excuse. There are so many of these goofballs on youtube making wild guesses without a clue of what they’re talking about.

  6. Thank you very much Bob, I knew you would have the answer that’s why my first stop was you, myself and others would be so lost without you to ask any question’s, thanks again :-)

  7. I was disappointed in the Geminids. I went out Friday morning early, looked for several minutes and saw nothing beside clear skies and stars.

    • Edward,
      Several minutes is much too short. Barely enough time to get your eyes dark-adapted. You may have even hit a short gap in activity. I noticed a few of these. If you had stayed out a half hour, you would have seen a few I’m sure of it.

  8. Hi AstroBob! First of all, I love your blog. Second, I just wanted to share my excitement and frustration. The Geminids was the first meteor shower that I attempted to photograph (I’m very new to astrophotography and I’m doing my best with meager equipment). I ended up taking 672 photos over 3 nights and only captured 1 meteor – but I was seeing dozens with the naked eye! I taped the shutter down on my point-and-shoot to take consecutive 15 sec exposures (my camera’s max exposure time). Looking back I suppose 15 sec exposures at ISO 400 must have been too low, and I ended up switching to ISO 800 for the batch of photos that was successful. .

    How many meteor photos do you typically expect for a shower event? Am I being greedy? I suppose one is better than none, but with so many falling I guess I just expected to capture more each night. Do you have any tips, or is it just luck since the meteors appear at random points in the sky?

    • Hi Eric,
      Thanks for your kind words. Believe me, I’ve been in your shoes! Through trial and error I finally learned (a little) what works with meteors. I shot about 80 exposures and caught 4 Geminids. ISO 400 with a 15-second exposure is MUCH TOO short as you soon found out. 800 is considerably better with a minimum of 30-seconds exposure. Best is between 1-3 minutes exposure at that speed at f/2.8 to 3.5. Since it’s your first time, I congratulate you on even getting one meteor! It took me a while back in the days of film to record my first. At least now I can look at the camera back and check the exposure.
      If you really want to get serious about meteor photography and greatly increase how many you record, use TWO camera bodies pointed in different directions, each equipped with an intervalometer that mechanically shoots one frame after another. Stay out for several hours minimum, keep the lenses dew/frost free and I guarantee you’ll haul in full net’s worth during a rich shower like the one we just had.

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