Discover more from Lockdown Stargazing
The last meteor shower of the year
AND get ready for the most exciting conjunction of your lifetime!
If you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! I’m Abby. I’m a freelance science journalist, stargazing columnist and author of The Art of Urban Astronomy. I live in England, where we have just entered a second lockdown…this time in winter. I started this newsletter to help people through the dark nights, with ideas of what to look for in the skies each week. If you live in the southern hemisphere don’t worry, I always try to make sure it applies to stargazers around the world.
Firstly, I have to apologise because this is clearly not Monday. I have no excuses (I was getting my hair cut most of the day on Monday), but next week we’ll get back to regular timings…This week is all about the Geminids meteor shower, which can produce up to 50 meteors per hour at its peak!
Geminids meteor shower
This week is all about the last meteor shower of the year, the Geminids. This will peak on the evening of the 13/14 December, and will be best viewed around 2AM wherever you are, visible from everywhere in the world. The great news is this year it coincides with a new moon, so your view won’t be interrupted by any moonlight. I can’t guarantee there won’t be clouds, however.
All meteor showers are named after the constellation they radiate from (this just means where they appear from). But meteors flash across the sky in all directions so you will be able to see them regardless of if you can find Gemini.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to know how to find Gemini anyway! To find Gemini, we can use Orion. First, identify the two brightest stars in Orion (Rigel and Betelgeuse). Rigel is the brightest star in the constellation, it has a bright blue colour and makes Orion’s right foot. Betelgeuse is the red star in Orion’s left shoulder. Drawing a line through Rigel to Betelgeuse, then continuing in that direction, will take you to two bright stars close together. These are Castor and Pollux, the twin stars that make the two heads of Gemini. Once you’ve found the heads, you should be able to make out the rest of the constellation, which looks like two stick men.
You don’t have to wait until the 13th to look for meteors. If you have a clear night before then, grab your chance to get outside and look for some. If you do get up before dawn, the best chance of seeing them will be by looking south-west.
Coming up next week…
There’s an incredibly rare event called a great conjunction happening on 21st December, when Saturn and Jupiter will appear in the same place in the sky. This only happens every 80 years! From now on, they look incredibly close together and they’re edging closer as every day passes. Go on, look for them just after sunset in the south-west!