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Published on Dec 10, 2013

 
 
 

Published on Dec 9, 2013

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NBC News/science

Geminid meteor shower set to peak, but moon might curtail viewing

Dec. 9, 2013 at 6:26 PM ET

Geminid

SkyandTelescope.com
This chart shows the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower.

This week marks the peak of what is usually considered the most satisfying of all annual meteor displays: the Geminid meteor shower.

As was the case with last month’s Leonid meteor shower, however, prospective skywatchers should be aware that once again, observers will face a major obstacle in their attempt to see this year’s Geminid performance, namely, the moon.

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the moon will turn full on Dec. 17, and as such, will seriously hamper viewing the peak of the Geminids, predicted to occur in the overnight hours of this Friday to Saturday. Bright moonlight will flood the sky through much of that night, playing havoc with any serious attempts to observe the usually spectacular meteor shower. [See amazing photos of the 2012 Geminid meteor shower]

The Geminids are already around, having been active only in a very weak and scattered form since about Dec. 7. Geminid activity is expected to be on an upswing in the nights to come, leading up to their peak on Friday night.

Historically, this shower has a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, meteors as well as rather faint meteors, with relatively few of medium brightness. Many Geminid meteor shower streaks appear yellowish in hue. Every once in a while, a Geminid fireball will blaze forth, bright enough to be quite spectacular and more than capable of attracting attention even in bright moonlight.

“If you have not yet seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor,” astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg wrote in their book, “Observe Meteors,” published by the Astronomical League.

Dark sky opportunities
The best times to look for streaking Geminids this year will be during the predawn hours several mornings before the night of full moon when the constellation Gemini will be standing high in the northwest sky. 

Geminid1

Joe Rao / Space.com
l times in this chart are a.m. and are local standard times. “MS” is the time of moonset. “Dawn” is the time when morning (astronomical) twilight begins. “Win” is the available window of dark sky composed of the number of minutes between the time of moonset and the start of twilight.

In fact, three “windows” of dark skies will be available between moonset and the first light of dawn on the mornings of Dec. 13, 14 and 15. Generally speaking, there will be about two hours of completely dark skies available on the morning of Dec. 13. This window shrinks to only about an hour on the 14th, and to less than 10 minutes by the morning of the 15th.

 
 
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