Stargazing, for the untamed and unequipped eye, might seem like just a lot of staring at a dark sky. Getting all the telescopes and binoculars needed to see even the closest stars can be a challenge on its own, but luckily, the next meteor shower to hit our skies won’t need any accessories to be seen. So if you’ve suddenly gotten real passionate about stargazing but don’t really know what you’re looking for, then get excited, because every December there's a celestial show, free of charge and (maybe) visible from your own backyard.
The Geminid meteor shower, one of the best and most reliable meteor showers on the celestial calendar, is set to light up the sky between 13-14 December. In the Northern Hemisphere, the shower typically promises anywhere between 100 and 150 meteors per hour at its peak (in ideal conditions), however here in the Southern Hemisphere we can expect to see about 25% of those. Unfortunately, a bright moon means there'll be even fewer visible this year, however you might still be able to catch about 40-50 shooting stars an hour at its peak, and meteors can be visible for several days before and after, if you happen to miss it.
According to the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium Acting Curator, Duncan Waldron, the great thing about this shower is that you don’t need any equipment to see those shooting stars, just as little light pollution as possible. According to Waldron, you'll get the best views with these tips:
This shower is best seen with a clearest sky as possible so try and get away from street lights and other light pollution sources.
Although the meteors will appear to come from Gemini, which is in the north-northeast, they can appear anywhere in the sky so pick a viewing place that is clear of obstructing trees and buildings.
The activity of a meteor shower often reaches a peak for one or two nights, and for this year’s Geminids the night of Wednesday 14 December (the best time will differ depending on where you are—check your location here) will be when you can catch them, but reduced activity can be seen for a few days either side of that date so they’ll be a few opportunities to catch this shower.
So there you go—if you’re keen on waking up to see meteors in the wee hours, get your blankets, backyard chairs and eyeballs ready for a show-stopping display of light. You just gotta stay awake for it.
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Image credit: Grey Rakozy