The Geminid Report

December 18, 2014

The Joy of Stargazing

Geminid radiant-labels
The eastern sky as it appeared around 11 p.m. on December 13th, 2014. The Geminid meteors radiated from a point near the bright star Castor.  Graphic by Gary Seronik

By Ken Hewitt-White

In a recent post (Splendid Geminids, December, 2nd, 2014), I declared from personal experience that the powerful Geminid meteor shower can be appreciated from city suburbs. I promised that on December 13th I’d be watching from my yard in Chilliwack, British Columbia – weather permitting, of course.

Well, the evening was clear, and not too cold. At nightfall, the temperature hovered around the freezing point – not bad for mid-December. I put on warm winter clothes and at 7:30 p.m. headed outside. I’d already placed a reclining lawn chair in a spot shaded from nearby lights. From there I could scan the sky from east through south. My plan was to conduct four one-hour observing sessions separated by brief warm-ups indoors. I’d quit around 1 a.m., when the last-quarter Moon rose above the rooftops.

Meteor showers are notoriously unpredictable. Even the experts don’t always know how strong a given event will be. This edition of the Geminids was good, but not exceptional, at least from my location. There weren’t many Geminid “daggers” that would catch the eye of someone out for an evening stroll. I counted only 15 meteors during my first hour, mainly because the shower’s radiant point was low. The subsequent sessions yielded counts of 29, 30, and 33 – a fair number for a suburban sky. A few Geminids were as lustrous as the brightest stars, and many glowed with a lovely golden colour.

Between meteor sightings, I stargazed. During the first hour, I stared straight up at the zenith and found a pale wisp – the Andromeda Galaxy. Later, Taurus paraded the dazzling Pleiades Cluster across the south (I counted six of the Seven Sisters), and by midnight I couldn’t keep my eyes off mighty Orion as he straddled the meridian. Near the horizon, brilliant Sirius was twinkling wildly with kaleidoscopic colours. But my attention kept returning to high-riding Gemini where, over time, I glimpsed several short meteors radiating out of a small area near Castor – the radiant point defined.

Finally, just before 1 a.m., I turned eastward and detected the speckled haze of the Beehive Cluster in Cancer. Below it was gleaming Jupiter and, farther down, Regulus in Leo. At that moment, a golden Geminid sliced through the Sickle. Nice!

And so ended a grand night of Geminid-spotting. The number of sightings (107) satisfied me. Better yet, I enjoyed a relaxing time under the stars and said hello to some old celestial friends.

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