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2014 Geminid Meteor Shower – Peaking In The Sky Near You This Weekend

Hey, everyone,

Just wanted to post a reminder note about the Geminid Meteor Shower that is peaking this weekend. Given the holiday craziness, end of year craziness, and general Life Craziness, I know how quickly things can become lost in the….what was I writing this email about again? Oh, right, meteor shower.

So, the Gemini Meteor Shower has been going on for more than a week now, but the peak is this Saturday evening/Sunday morning. If the skies will be clear for you, I encourage you to go out and check it out. It normally averages 100-120 or so meteors/hour at peak, but two years ago it jumped up over 200/hour. Don’t know what this year will bring, but even at 100/hour, your odds of seeing some are pretty good.

The only drawback for those living in the northern hemisphere is that it’s getting on winter, and the weather isn’t always the best (and when it is, it’s usually too cold for most folks to stand around for long staring at the star-studded sky). But, if you’ve got clear skies forecasted for this Saturday night, and want to check out a good meteor shower, this is an ideal one a few reasons.

Firstly, the radiant (the spot in the sky the meteors would appear to “come from” if you were to trace them out on a star chart/sky map as you saw them) is in the constellation Gemini (hence the meteor shower name), and it rises about 9pm. This means you’ll have a pretty good  chance of seeing some meteors in the pre-midnight hours than having to wait until 1am or later to catch the show (that said, it will be best time is between 1a and 3a, but that’s only if you are die-hard enough to want to stay out all night 😉 ). Note: all times here are local to you! Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you’ll have a shot at seeing meteors from this shower. Just apply the times noted as if they were local to you (though one caveat: given that the radiant is in Gemini, northern hemisphere observers will have a better time of it in seeing more meteors than southern hemisphere observers – but you all in the southern hemi can still see it!)

Secondly, this meteor shower, under ideal conditions (totally dark sky, completely unobstructed horizons all around), typically yield anywhere from 80-150 (or more, in 2011 and 2012 it  got upwards of 200+) meteors per hour. I.e., the chances are pretty damned good you’ll see some if you wait around for 10-15 minutes.

The Moon. This year the shower coincides with the Last Quarter Moon, so there will be some extraneous light to wash out the sky. But the Geminids are so bright that even a quarter moon won’t make it a hopeless endeavour to get out and see the show.

Some details.

+ Dress WARMLY! I’ve mentioned it before, but can’t stress this enough. Check the temperature forecasts for the night, and dress as if it will be 10-15 degrees *colder*! Standing, sitting, laying around watching meteor showers is not a very body heat-generating experience. You will cool off quickly. Wear warm socks, gloves, and a hat, in addition to whatever else you might normally wear.

+ Be comfortable. From where ever you plan to watch the show (your backyard, your hot tub*, a park, etc), either bring a chair you can relax in and watch the sky, or a tarp and blanket (and maybe a sleeping pad and sleeping bag; sleeping bag good for chair use as well).

* – if you’re watching from a hot tub, I probably don’t need to say anything about your being comfortable *or* warm.  😉

+ Having hot chocolate is nice (unless you’re a coffee drinker or like hot tea).

+ Binoculars, telescopes, etc. You don’t need them, and you really don’t want them for watching for shooting stars. Meteors travel across long distances of the sky compared to the field of view that binoculars or telescopes afford you. If you’re meteor hunting, you don’t want to distract yourself with closing down your field of view to a tiny part of the sky (unless you see something unusual and want to check it out – like a star cluster, a dust cloud, a galaxy, a planet*, etc)

* – Jupiter will be high in the sky most of the night, the brightest star-like object up there, and Saturn will be rising to the east about an hour before sunrise

+ Cameras and photographing meteors. Meteors last anywhere from a couple/few seconds to a short flash in the sky. To capture a photo of one, you’ll need a tripod and a camera capable of doing long exposures and having reasonably high ISO settings (1600-3200 or so). If you want to know more about this, email me separately.  🙂

Some links for you to read up on:

EarthSky (there may be a video ad that plays when this comes up, but you can mute and delete it)

Wiki overview of the Geminids is a webpage from two years ago. I only include it as it has some good graphics illustrating the ‘radiant’ I mentioned earlier, for both the Northern and Southern hemisphere views:

Another good site to keep tabs on, for meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, etc.:

And if that’s not enough for you, if you google “2014 Geminid Meteor Shower” you’ll get a host of other pages to browse through.

Also, since you now have a few days, you might try and track down/contact a local astronomy club to see if they are going to be hosting any meteor watching outings somewhere near you. For weather forecasting, there are a number of sites, chose your favorite and keep tabs. 🙂   Personally I use, but that’s just my go-to. Weatherunderground does a good job with hourly forecasts, if there’s a chance it might be cloudy for you.Finally, IF you happen to stumble upon this video, it is not, repeat NOT a meteor, much less a Geminid, but rather a satellite breaking and burning up on re-entry, for all those who can get out, good luck, and good hunting!


PS: please feel free to share this as you see fit.

The Second Great Total Lunar Eclipse of 2014 – This Wednesday AM

Greetings, everyone,

This coming Wednesday morning will be the second of four successive total lunar eclipses spanning the 2014/2015 years. Having a series of four total lunar eclipses (solar eclipses don’t count) with no partials in between is known as a tetrad. The first of these occurred back in April of this year (I got not only clouded out, but thunderstormed out), the second happens in less than two days, the next two happen next year. The last tetrad occurred during 2003/2004, the next tetrad won’t be until 2032/2033.

The 2014/2015 tetrad of eclipses has been/will be visible from greater North America in some way, shape, or form, portions of South America, eastern Asia, and Australia. (sorry, Europe and Africa are getting shut out of this – but then you guys in Africa had a nice total-to-annular solar eclipse last year 😉 ).

This second eclipse will, unfortunately, not be well-placed to viewing for those in the eastern portion of North America, as the Moon will be setting during or shortly after it reaches total eclipse, minutes before sunrise. For those in the same time zone as Maryland, the Moon will reach maximum eclipse (at 6:55am) a mere 16 minutes before sunrise. (7:11am). The saving grace is that it will just get fully covered by Earth’s shadow just before 6:30am – but it is going to be very low in the western sky.

However, for those of you on the West Coast of North America, and in the greater Pacific region, you’ll have an opportunity to witness the entire event from start to finish.

For the East Coasters, the eclipse really won’t get underway in any meaningful manner until ~5:15am. So you don’t have to stay up all night for this (you do, however, have to get up REALLY early! 😉 ).

As always, here are some links for you to check out for more information:

Time And notes that this particular eclipse may be a ‘selenelion’ for some folks – meaning that due to Earth’s atmosphere’s refraction properties, you will be able to see the moon fully in Earth’s shadow at the same time as the sun rises! But you will need VERY flat, open, and uncluttered eastern and western horizons to see this.

More diagrams and maps here:

and here:

Animation graphic of the Moon’s path through Earth’s shadow will be the morning of October 8th:

If you want to really get your geek on, you can play around with this page, the United States Naval Observatory’s eclipse calculator:

As a side note, toward the end of the month there will be an opportunity to catch a partial solar eclipse in a small section of the world (mostly the entirety of North America). More details (and eclipse coverage maps) here:

and here (among other sites, if you decide to google around) :

Right now, for me, the local weather forecast is…less than stellar (more like clouds and rain – almost a repeat of this past April’s eclipse :-/ ). But hopefully the skies will clear. And hopefully they’ll be clear for you, too. Good luck, and enjoy!


Fall Friends/Family Star Party – Nov 8, 2013!

The APL Astronomy Club’s Friends & Family Star Party will be held on Friday, November 8th, at 6:00pm until 10:00 pm or so, depending on how things are going, how enthused the telescope volunteers are for staying late, etc.

Star gazing (and telescope viewing) is always dependent and contingent upon the weather. Please check back to this post as the date draws nigh to verify whether or not the star party has been cancelled due to inclimate weather (rain and clouds being the biggest impactors). We will be putting weather updates here as they are necessary. If we are clouded/rained out, we will regroup in the spring.

APLers and their friends and families are all invited to attend. Club members will have several telescopes out for your viewing pleasure, but feel free to bring your own optics if you have them – the more, the merrier! And even though there is plenty of light pollution around, PLEASE: NO FLASHLIGHTS!

Where: On the lawn by the Big Dish, outside the security fence, on the west side of the main campus. See map to right.

Clothing: dress as if the temperatures will be 10 degrees colder than what the weather prognosticators are calling for! (standing around looking through telescopes is not the most heat-generating activity you can do at night)

Sunset: 4:58 pm EDT
End civil twilight: 7:02 pm EDT

Moonset: 10:16 pm EDT
Moon phase: Near First Quarter (35% illuminated)

In the days leading up to the height of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I happened to have worked out a mini vacation trip to Colorado and Wyoming. During the trip, whenever I was camping out, I was shooting astro-lapse sequences as the weather allowed. The culmination of these sequences is the astro-lapse video link below. The sequences were shot on the nights of 8/7, 8/9, 8/11, and 8/12. Between the two cameras,I captured no fewer than 130 meteors (actually now 131, as I just found a new one in one of the stills while reviewing a sequence the other day). Most nights I did not stay up to watch the show, being exhausted from the day’s activities, so I only got up to adjust and re-time the cameras. However, while I was up, I would see 2-3 meteors in that short time. The night of 8/11, morning of 8/12, I stayed up for about 75 minutes. In that time I counted 40 or so meteors, no fewer than 8-10 were fireballs. And half of the rest were easily 1st magnitude or brighter. (repeating this time frame and observing the following night/morning, which was post-peak, resulted in only 9 meteors, a dramatic drop-off from 24 hours earlier).

Enjoy the video, feel free to share it as you think people might like to see.  😎