While it wasn’t as cold out as it was earlier this year for my Quadrantids watch, it still felt like 27°F according to The Weather Channel. Luckily there was no wind really, so that helped. Still, it was bundles of clothes, blankets and a cup of piping hot chocolate (with some Bailey’s mint creme, mmm) that all worked to keep me toasty… for a while. I had two friends over tonight to watch with me and the show was forecast to be rather spectacular this year, but I had heard that before. Earlier showers this year, including the Orionids and the Persieds were both supposed to be pretty good and both were pretty meh from what I saw. Thankfully the Geminids did not disappoint. While the Perseids are the more popular shower thanks to being in the late summer, if you can brave the cold of near-winter to catch the Geminids you’re really in for a show. Within just under 1.5 hours our 3 pairs of eyes had spotted 70 meteors before my friends called it a night. Left with only a pair of eyes to scan the sky it was still only a few more minutes before I upped the count to 75 and took an hour break inside to warm up. Back out at around 1:50am I could tell the shower was peaking – there were definitely more meteors appearing and by 2:15am I was texting my friends who went home that I had reached 100. By the time I quit the field at around 2:45am the count was up to 126! That is a staggering amount of meteors for my area in a 3 hour time period. I’ve watched showers in the past for 3-4 hours and counted 20-30 total!
Most of the Geminids are low on the horizon, and most are very bright and long-lasting thanks to the Geminids being spawned from dense asteroid material rather than loose cometary material. It’s still up for debate what exactly caused the Geminids but scientists theorize an asteroid collision followed by Jupiter shifting the debris into our orbit. Whatever, the results are amazing. The majority of our sightings were bright and traveling a good distance across the sky for 2-3 seconds. While most looked like shooting stars a good amount were so near the horizon they appeared to be going down instead of across the sky – falling stars. Numbers 74, 94 and 105 in particular were stunners. #74 and #94 each left persistent trails in their wake and #105 actually exploded! It flashed into being brighter than Jupiter and only traveled the length of Orion’s arm before flashing out brilliantly instead of the slow fade you normally see.
Not only were the meteors raining down but the viewing conditions were highly optimal as well. A new moon meant the brightest object in the sky was only Jupiter, Gemini rises early and was already high up by 10pm and remaining at zenith through to the morning, and despite cloudy weather the past week and more cloudy weather starting the next day the heavens opened up on this night for perfectly clear skies. Vunderbar!!
There was supposedly a brand new shower originating from around Pisces but being on the opposite side of the sky we didn’t see any, nor were we really looking. But a friend of mine said she spotted some.
I’m extremely pleased to not only smash my previous record for single-night viewing but to also push my new record into the triple digits! I’m not sure if this record will be topped anytime soon, although there is a chance that in May of 2014 we could see another brand new shower appear with the capability of producing a meteor storm – yes a storm. Showers are regular events but storms consist of thousands of meteors per hour. The last great meteor storm was the 1833 Leonids Leonids, which produced 100,000 to 200,000 per hour. Nutty! In the meantime, we’ll have to hope 2013 brings some nice showers.