It is the middle December and families are decking the halls and the houses and the yards with Christmas lights and decorations. Many neighborhoods are preparing for the onslaught of drivers invading their turf to look at the light displays. The interesting fact is that there is a really terrific light show scheduled for December and you do not have to drive to another neighborhood to see it and it is free. The evenings from December 13 to December 21 will boast a spectacular meteor shower and a total lunar eclipse (at least for those of us who live in North America).
The Geminids meteor is often considered one of the best and most reliable meteor showers. They show up on time and often produce up to two meteors a minute. While most of the meteors will be white you can also see yellow, blue, red and green. This meteor shower is known as the Geminids because the shower seems to come from the direction of the constellation Gemini. There is other interesting information about the Geminids. While the source of most meteors is a comet, the source of the Geminids is an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon. As with most astronomical situations there is discussion about whether 3200 Phaethon is really an asteroid or a comet in its final stages.
The Geminids were visible from December 7 to December 17, but the peak viewing period is December 13 and 14. The best time to see the most activity is from midnight until dawn. Look toward Gemini. If you do not know the constellation Gemini, most people know the constellation Orion. Find Orion, look the left and you will be in a good initial viewing position. Try to allow about an hour or so for viewing the shower. You might see as many as two meteors a minute but it will not be every minute. Because of “light pollution” around cities you might need to get away from the city to have the best view of the shower.
The second phase of the December light show in the sky is total eclipse of the moon. The lunar eclipse will occur on December 21. A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth. The sun, the earth and the moon are in a relatively straight line. The eclipse begins early on the night of December 20 but the “total” eclipse begins at about 12:30am (EST) on the twenty-first. The eclipse will last about 72 minutes. Analysts believe that this will be the best eclipse to view until April 2014.
Seeing Christmas light can be fun. This is a chance to look at the night sky with the family, to learn about some of our natural phenomena and to be more comfortable in the dark.