As a follow up to my blog about enjoying nature this holiday season, don’t miss the annual Geminid meteor shower which peaks tonight (12/13) since the skies will not have the glare of the moon. This is the best meteor show(er) of the year! If the sky stays clear we will get a spectacular show here again--one meteor a minute and possibly up to 120 meteors an hour! I remember a magical time standing on a packed North Hampton State Beach a few years ago listening to nothing but the surf and the “ooh’s” and “ah’s” of the crowd as we all stood bundled up to to the cold, coffees and hot chocolates in hand, with our necks craned to the darkened sky. Later on we overwhelmed the friendly staff at Betty’s Kitchen when many of us poured in there for breakfast when they opened!
The Geminids are named after the constellation Gemini since they appear to come from that area of the sky--a little higher and to the left of Orion’s belt. What is different from normal meteor shower, which is caused by comet particles, is that this shower happens when Earth moves through asteroid junk. There may be a new meteor shower (to be called Piscids) happening tonight as well which will appear to come from the constellation Pisces and this will make the sky even more glorious.
Right after sunset you should be able to see few scattered meteors, but the show will really start picking up around 10 PM and peak midnight to 2 AM. These will be visible to the naked eye--not need for binoculars. We are especially lucky to be able to go to the beach and get a great view over the ocean without buildings and lights.
Do you want to try your hand at photgraphing the shower? Here is a great article from a sister patch site in Pennsylvania:
And if you succeed, post your photos here!
Always remember to shoot and then look to see what you got and play around with your settings. Local photography teacher Robert Chiller of West Newbury, MA says to keep your ISO as low as possible and your shutter speed (up to 5 seconds) as short as you can to elimiate “noise”. In digital photographs, “noise” is the commonly-used term to describe visual distortion. It looks similar to grain found in film photographs, but can also look like splotches of discoloration when it’s really bad, and can ruin a photograph. Noise tends get worse when you’re shooting in low light. Robert says to try to find balance between the movement of the meteors and having more “noise”. And make sure to use a tripod and set your timer. This is something you can also experiment with next summer when photographing fireworks. Taking film is an even easier way to record the experience.
Of course, if you just want to bundle up and observe the show that nature offers us for free without taking a camera, then pack a thermos, bundle up with layers and hats and mittens and go enjoy the wonders of the night sky! And remember it’s better to watch in a group--you see more and it is a lot more fun.