Huestis: The Geminid Meteor Shower
Saturday, December 01, 2018
During mid-to-late November, for those of you who commuted to work in an easterly direction had surely noticed a brilliant beacon above the east-southeast horizon before sunrise. That dazzling object was the planet Venus. Venus will continue to dominate the morning sky as December begins. A beautiful sky scene will greet your eyes on the morning of the 3 rd as a waning crescent Moon will appear about six degrees above our planetary neighbor.
Joining Venus during early December will be our solar system’s closest planet to the Sun—Mercury. On the 5 th the waning crescent Moon will pass about six degrees above and to the right of Mercury. Mercury will continue to ascend into the sky until the 10 th after which it will then begin to descend back towards the horizon and the Sun. Around this time, depending upon your view of the horizon, you may begin to see the return of Jupiter. Each morning Jupiter will rise higher into the sky as Mercury is setting. On the 22 nd these two worlds will appear within one degree (two full Moon diameters) of each other. So if you’ve never observed Mercury try using Jupiter as your guide to do so. By month’s end Mercury will disappear from view in bright morning twilight.
While Mars continues to be visible throughout December, the distance between our two worlds increases from 94,469,737 miles to 117,172,414 miles by month’s end. That means the image size of the planet through a telescope will continue to shrink. I suspect Mars’ surface detail will be difficult to discern in smaller instruments. Consider how much the Earth has pulled out ahead of Mars in our respective orbits. Back at closest approach at the end of July the Earth and Mars were a mere 35,785,537 million miles apart.
I always look forward to the northern hemispheres’ best shooting star display —the Geminids. With the peak of meteor activity on the night of December 13-14, I regard this showers’ appearance as an early holiday gift from the Universe. And for 2018 if weather conditions are favorable about 60+ meteors per hour may be seen from about 10pm once the waxing crescent Moon sets until the sky begins to brighten during dawn. With no interfering moonlight stargazers will have an opportunity to see as many meteors as possible. All you will need is a dark-sky location devoid of interfering light pollution sources.
An observer can usually count on the temperature to be at or below the freezing mark during the Geminids. Regardless, I still recommend sitting or reclining in a comfortable lounge chair. Dress in layers. Climb into a sleeping bag if possible. Wear a hat to keep heat from escaping through your exposed head. Wear warm mittens, not gloves. Mittens keep your fingers together for added warmth. You can also use a few of those pocket warmers to keep extremities toasty.
Keep warm and alert, but don’t get too comfy out there. I’ve told the following story many times since it occurred, but it is a cautionary tale that bears repeating.
Many moons ago during a Geminid meteor shower watch from Seagrave Observatory, the sky was clear when we started observing. However, sometime during the night we all fell asleep. When we awoke we realized some clouds had paid us a visit, since we were all covered with a dusting of snow. Moral of that story is…stay awake while meteor observing during the winter. Otherwise they may have to pick you up with ice tongs and thaw you out in the morning!!
While the Geminids appear to radiate from Gemini near its brightest stars, Castor and Pollux, scan around the sky as much as possible. As the night progresses and Gemini moves across the sky towards the west, your scan should move as well. At around 2:30am Gemini will be on your north/south meridian, just south of zenith. The number of meteors per hour should increase throughout your observing session. You’ll know you’ve seen a Geminid if you can trace the origin of the meteor’s trail back to the radiant point.
The Geminids are fairly bright and moderate in speed, hitting our atmosphere at 21.75 miles per second. They are characterized by their multicolored display (65% being white, 26% yellow, and the remaining 9% blue, red and green). Geminids also have a reputation for producing exploding meteors called fireballs. The source of the particles that comprise this meteor stream is a two-mile-in-diameter hybrid “rock comet” named 3200 Phaethon. The Earth sweeps through its orbital path annually.
And finally, it doesn’t seem possible that winter is nearly upon us in the northern hemisphere. On the 21 st the Winter Solstice occurs at 5:23pm EST (Eastern Standard Time). Notice how low an arc the Sun now travels across the sky. After this date and time the Sun’s arc will rise higher and higher each day as it appears to travel northward in our sky, reaching the Vernal Equinox (spring) on March 20, 2019 at 5:58pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time). The apparent shift of the Sun’s position in the sky is the result of the Earth’s fixed axial tilt of 23.5 degrees as our planet orbits the Sun. Watch the following video for a review of this process.
Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open to the public every clear Saturday night. However, in December Seagrave will be closed on the 15 th . Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every clear Tuesday night. The Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick is open every clear Thursday night. Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown is open every clear Friday night year-round.
Happy holidays and clear skies to all.
Sneak peak for January: Total Lunar Eclipse on the night of January 20-21.
David A. Huestis
Related Slideshow: 20 Reasons to Look Forward to Winter in New England - 2018
Two of the best weeks all winter long is Providence Restaurant Weeks.
Choose from menus at nearly 100 restaurants. Enjoy three-course lunches at $16.95 and three-course dinners at $29.95 or $34.95, as well as two-for-one specials.
Providence Restaurant Weeks will be held from January 13-26.
The 2019 Newport Winter Festival is set to be held from February 15-24.
The festival features 10 days of live music, food, games, a chili cook-off and so much more over a span of nine days.
One of the coolest events of the winter, the New England Pond Hockey Classic is set to take place from February 1-3.
Final rosters for the tournament are due January 28.
If you can't make it up, grab the skates and find your local pond and play hockey anyway. BE SAFE of course.
The Festival of Lights at La Salette Shrine
By far one of the coolest lighting displays you will see anywhere in New England and maybe even the country.
The festival features 300,000 lights over 10 acres of land.
The Festival of Lights runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every night until January 6.
Do not miss out!
Riding the Polar Express
No better way to get into the holiday spirit than to hop aboard the Polar Express.
The train runs through December 23.
The trip includes a 90-minute excursion on a real-life train that is filled with a reading of the classic children’s story, sing-a-longs, hot chocolate served in a souvenir mug, delicious cookies, games, and a special visit from Santa where he personally delivers the first gift of Christmas to every child.
Tower Hill's Night Lights Display
Night Lights is a walking experience throughout 15 acres of glowing gardens, where more than 200,000 lights have been thematically placed among the trees, shrubs, fountains, and statuary to create a magical winter wonderland celebrating plants and nature.
The display runs from November 23 through December 30.
Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village is an evening filled with New England holiday traditions, live musical performances, storytelling, sleigh rides, festive foods, a roaring bonfire, and strolls around the decorated Village Common.
Christmas by Candlelight begins November 30 and runs through December 23.
Whether you are skating on a pond or at one of the many ice rinks across the region like the Alex & Ani Center in the heart of Providence.
The skating center provides a full schedule of activities to carry you through the winter including adult and kids skating sessions as well as activities for the entire family.
Ice Climbing With Adventure Spirit
For the adventurous out there, Adventure Spirit in Vermont is your place for ice climbing. Choose from climbing at Bolton Quarry, Bristol Cliffs or even Smuggler's Notch to be lead by one of their experienced instructors.
Be prepared to spend your day strenuously climbing some of nature's frozen streams and flow offs. They also offer alpine climbing and outdoor rock climbing for those who wish to fully test their limits.
Curling Season at the Ocean State Curling Club
You watch curling in the Olympics every year and you love it. So try it this winter.
The Ocean State Curling Club has your curling fix. Hosting events and tournaments or "bonspiels" at the Veteran’s Memorial Ice Rink in Cranston, RI, the Ocean State Curling Club is a "social club for anyone interested in recreational curling." The club also offers lessons for those who want to learn the sport.
Sing-a-Long with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall
Held at Symphony Hall, the Boston Pops holiday concert is filled with food, sing-a-longs and a visit from the one and only Santa Claus!
Have some holiday cookies as the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays holiday classics for you and your family.
The seven kids afternoon shows include post-concert photos with Santa as well as special treats.
Snow Tubing at Ski Ward
Sledding, skiing or snowboarding not for you? Grab a tube and enjoy the ride down one of the many hills at the Ski Ward.
Don't forget to take the whole family out to Slopeside Bar and Grill after a long day in the snow.
Sled Down Neutaconkanut Hill
Neutaconkanut Hill has some of the best slopes for sledding in the state.
Bundle up, hold on, and enjoy the ride.
In addition to the sledding slopes, snowshoeing and cross country skiing is offered at this legendary Providence slope.
Snowmobiling at the Tall Timber Lodge
Pittsburg, New Hampshire
For snowmobiling enthusiasts, Pittsburg, New Hampshire might be the snowmobiling capital of New England with more than 200 trails, all filled with great adventures.
The Tall Timber Lodge offers a variety of packages that include rentals, dinners, lodging and much more. If you need a break from the trails, the lodge also consists of a spa.
Snowshoeing at Wachusett Mountain
For those who can't ski or snowboard, snowshoeing is another way to get around in the snow. Wachusett Mountain is the perfect place for snowshoeing.
Cross Country Skiing at East Bay Bike Path
East Bay Bike Path, Bristol to Providence RI
For those that love skiing, well this is your season.
Grab your poles and skis and head down to the East Bay Bike Path for some Cross Country Skiing. Of course, you can go cross-country skiing anywhere there is snow and some flat land, but the East Bay Bike Path stretches about 14 miles from Bristol to India Point Park in Providence.
No better way to get into the holiday spirit than by going down to Trinity Rep to see A Christmas Carol.
As is the company’s custom, the entire production will be completely new from casting to design and theatrical magic. This past season’s production became the highest selling show in Trinity Rep history.
Dog Sled Tours with the Ultimate Dog Sledding Experience
Embrace the call of the wind and go up to New England Dog Sledding for dog sled tours. Tours are pulled by trained and "friendly" Husky sled dogs and are offered throughout the area.
Ultimate Dog Sledding is located just 40 minutes from Portland.
Across New England
It's practically a tradition for a lot of people, but ice fishing is an interesting winter experience. Head out to the ponds and see what you can get.
But be safe, it takes 4-6 inches of ice to support a person and 8-10 inches to support a vehicle.
Christmas at the Newport Mansions
The glitter of gold and the sparkle of silver will dazzle you as you tour three magnificent mansions decked out in Yuletide finery. Music, tours, and spectacular decorations highlight the celebration of Christmas at the Newport Mansions.
The Preservation Society of Newport County invites you to make holiday memories with your family by visiting The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House this holiday season.
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