Today, Google Doodle will take viewers on a short, astronomical journey that demonstrates how the combination of a distant space rock, the Sun, and Earth’s atmosphere manage to provide an incredible natural light show.
Currently, the Earth is traveling through the dust and rubble that has come from a strange space rock called 3200 Phaethon, which means it is time for the annual Geminid meteor shower. In generally, the Geminids are the strongest, brightest meteor shower of the year. According to the American Meteor Society, however, they do not win popularity contest among meteor showers. Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere prefer to watch the Perseids meteor shower in the warmer weather of August. The Perseids were the first meteor showers celebrated by Google Doodle in 2009 and 2014. Finally, the Geminids will be in the spotlight.
The meteor shower will be best to view late night Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, into early Friday morning. However, unless the weather is clear and the lights are low, it may be hard to view the meteor shower.
NASA calls Phaethon is “a weird, rocky object.” It is possible that it is a near-Earth asteroid of an extinct comet. Either way, there is a trail of rocky material and grit in its wake that burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, which is what is seen in the yearly Geminid meteor shower.
According to The Verge, the Geminids are not alone, comet 46p/Wirtanen is also in the sky. It is a green blur and will be at its brightest on Dec. 16.
“Look towards the east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the green, fuzzy comet. It will be near the constellation Orion, or the saucepan,” according to Brad Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University. This will be the last opportunity to see the “Christmas Comet” for a few years, as it orbits the Sun every five years.
How to Watch the Meteor Shower Tonight
The Geminids last for a few days, but the best time to see then will be Thursday night. Once the Moon sets by 10:30 p.m. local time, people will be able to see the meteoroids streaking through the Earth’s atmosphere at 78,000 miles per hour, according to a blog post on NASA’s website.
“That may sound fast, but it is actually somewhat slow compared to other meteor showers.” The slower pace means that the colors bright blue, green, white, or red arcs traced through the sky will linger long enough for people on the ground to see.
What people will see depends on the level of light pollution in the area. Under the best conditions, viewers could see 120 shooting stars an hour at the peak of the shower, as reported by London’s Natural History Museum. NASA recommends allowing 30 minutes for the eyes to adjust and not looking a flashlights or cellphone screens, it will ruin the night vision.
In a live Facebook Video, Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, says, “You go out after the moon sets, you find yourself a nice dark place, you lay on your back, and you look straight up taking in as much sky as you can.” Dress warmly.
People in city centers will not be able to see anything, even in the suburbs, people probably will not see more than 40 shooting stars an hour, if the clouds are few and the lights are dim. NASA says, “Even though the Geminids are rich in beautiful green fireballs, the lights of New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta will blot even them out.”
For those who live amid city lights there are other options to watch the show. CNET reports that Slooh Observatory will be streaming the shower, and The Washington Post discovered a live stream that allows people to hear the ping of radio waves reflected back to Earth by the clouds of ionized gases in the meteors’ wakes.
By Jeanette Smith
The Verge: Watch the brilliant Geminid meteor shower celebrated by today’s Google Doodle
Featured Image Courtesy of Channone Arif’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Top Image Courtesy of Diana Robinson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License