The Geminid meteor shower 2012, the final major meteor shower of every year and likely to be the best, peaks overnight Thursday (Dec. 13) and Friday (Dec. 14). You also may be able to see a great show after those dates as well.
If you liked the Perseids meteor shower this past August, you should love this show. NASA reports that the Geminids are a relatively young meteor shower, with the first sitings occurring in the 1830s at rates of about 20 per hour.
Over the decades the rates have increased, regularly spawning between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.
Earthsky.org reports the Geminids peak might be around 2 a.m. on Dec. 13 and 14, because that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen around the world.
"With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers," Earthsky reports. "Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14."
The Anoka-Hennepin School District's Jackson Middle School observatory in Champlin advises, "Although the shower is named for the constellation Gemini, the meteors can streak across any part of the sky, so you don’t have to look toward Gemini to see them."
Geminids are pieces of debris from 3200 Phaethon, basically a rocky skeleton of a comet that lost most of its meat and skin—its outer covering of ice—after too many close encounters with the sun.
Darker the Better
Joel Weisberg, Stark Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences at Carleton College, told Patch you can get a good view by finding a good piece of land that doesn't have a lot of lights around.
“The darker the place the better,” he said.
He said not having a lot of trees around helps as well, and the later in the night your viewing time is the better the chance you have to see some action.
Getting away from the glow of the highways and the city lights will offer the best chance to get a good look of the shower.
Tips for watching from Earthsky.org:
The best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Dec. 14.
What to bring: You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough.
Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.
Your best bet is to go outside at the suggested time—and hope.
Viewing for Fridley area residents
Fridley is close enough to the Twin Cities' urban centers for light-pollution to impede star- or meteor-gazing. (See a light pollution map of Minnesota at the Minnesota Astronomical Society's web page.)
Springbrook Nature Center might be the darkest spot in Fridley. The visitors center building closes at 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, "but the outside park/parking lot is open," said Springbrook's Jan Swanson, about last summer during the Perseids meteor shower. "We have no closing gates." To get to the darkest area, she said, "head into the center part of the park."
Area observatories won't be open this time around, such as the Onan Observatory at Baylor Regional Park in Norwood-Young America (about an hour from Fridley), the University of Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, Anoka-Hennepin School District's Jackson Middle School observatory, or Carleton College's Goodsell Observatory. Other MAS sites include the Metcalf Nature Center near Afton and Cherry Grove Observatory southwest of Cannon Falls.
In general, members of the Minnesota Astronomical Society (MAS) say Fridley residents need to get out the city for such meteor gazing because of light pollution from the Twin Cities.