Did you get out to see the Geminids last night? We were incredibly lucky. The sky cleared around 7:30 and stayed that way till almost midnight despite the forecast for “mostly cloudy and snow flurries.” After a fun party with the local astronomy club, I sped home, dressed in my heavy coat, hat and boots and eased back into a reclining lawn chair. A half-hour in, as the temperature dropped to 2° above, I went back inside and grabbed the big wool blanket. Back in the chair with the blanket pulled up to my chin, I felt utterly snug and content.
The meteors flew by. They mostly came singly, but I saw a rapid burst of 4-in-a-row and a pair pop off almost simultaneously on either side of the radiant in Gemini. Many were little spitballs of light that zipped into and out of view in a quick, but a few streaked fast and white across great lengths of the sky. I saw 52 meteors in all — 51 Geminids and one sporadic or random meteor.
Besides the delicious feeling of anticipating when, where and how bright the next meteor might be, the cumulative effect of seeing one meteor after another radiate from one point in space gave me the distinct feeling of moving on a spaceship toward the stars. Just like you see on Star Trek when the warp drive kicks in and the stars turn into streaks. Except slowed way down.
But we really are on a spaceship. A big blue one called Earth, and it was moving along at 26,640 miles an hour (29.8 kilometers per second) last night across the cloud of debris left by the Geminids’ parent asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. No wonder the dust flamed to incandescence when it struck out atmosphere.
I hope you had some quiet time to enjoy both the subtle and showy beauty of the shower. If it was cloudy last night, you’ll still see some Gems tonight, too but with reduced numbers. You can start watching after 9 p.m. local time through 2 a.m. tomorrow morning.
There’s still one more meteor shower remaining in 2017 — the Ursids. They’re named for Ursa Minor the Little Bear and radiate from near the bowl of the Little Dipper but at a much lower rate than the Geminids. Active from Dec. 17 through the 24th and peaking on the 23rd, you might see up to 10 meteors per hour zipping from the northern sky. Since the moon will only be a thick evening crescent at the time, it won’t interfere with the shower. If you’re loony about meteors like I am, it’s worth a look!