After a week of slowly ramping up, the annual Geminid meteor shower kicks into high gear, reaching its peak in the overnight hours of Sunday, December 13. With the moon out of the way, sky conditions promise to be perfect for this celestial fireworks show.
Every year around mid-December, Earth plows into a cloud of debris left by the comet-like asteroid Phaethon, causing a shower of meteors that appears to come from the direction of the constellation Gemini.
Best views of the peak will be from the dark countryside, far from city lights, with up to 100 shooting stars visible per hour. From suburbs, these numbers are expected to drop to 20 to 60 meteors per hour, depending on local light-pollution levels. But even in urban centers across the Northern Hemisphere, the brightest meteors, called fireballs, should be easily visible under clear skies. The Geminids should produce a few fireballs during the peak hours from local midnight to just before dawn on Monday.
For this and other celestial events, visit my National Geographic column, Starstruck.
Tags: Gemini, Geminids, meteor shower
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Watch as Earth’s closest neighbour gets crowned this weekend! Timed perfectly for International Astronomy Day on Saturday, May 7th the crescent Moon will be bejeweled with an grand arc of the most brilliant stars in the western evening skies. This will be a great opportunity to begin learning your way around the night sky by letting the Moon be your guide to some bright stars that are lead members of different Springtime constellations.
Face towards the western horizon after sunset and here is what you’ll see: To the left of the Moon will be Procyon – the lead star in the constellation Canis Minor- the little dog. Above the Moon will be two bright equally bright stars, Pollux and Castor, representing the heads of the Gemini twins. Then to the Moon’s far right will be the orange hued beacon, Capella – the lead star of Auriga – the charioteer. Step outside Saturday after sunset and see if you can hunt these stellar jewels down for yourself!
Sky Show Bonus: The planets will be on display in the early morning skies throughout the month of May. Four of the brightest, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will be clustered very low in the eastern horizon at dawn. I will have a viewer’s guide ready for tomorrow…so stay tuned!
Tags: Auriga, Canis Minor, Gemini
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This week’s episode highlights the awesome new NASA satellite images of our Sun and gives stargazers a heads up on two lunar sky shows involving star clusters.
Tags: Gemini, M35, NASA, Pleiades, Sun, Taurus, TV
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Stepped out my front door Friday night and took this quick photo of the gibbous Moon sitting to the right of the twin stars of Gemini. Both Castor and Pollux were easily seen with the naked eye despite the superbright glare of the Moon and all the light pollution from suburban Montreal. If you look carefully you can see most of the trailing fainter stars of Gemini – just compare the photo with the skychart from the previous blog post. Next stop for the Moon – Mars on Monday. Stay tuned for details.
Editor’s note: Check out on my Sky Tonight page the latest video from NASA highlighting what’s up in the sky for December.
Tags: Castor, Gemini, Pollux
Posted in Constellations, Stargazing, stars, The Moon | 77 Comments »
Know anyone born under the horoscope sign of Gemini? Well you can easily track the Zodiac constellation in the night sky tonight thanks to the moon pointing the way. The Brilliant waning gibbous Moon is going to be hanging just to the lower right of the two lead twin stars of Gemini – Castor and Pollux. Try and shield your eyes from the glare of the Moon with your hand and the two bright white stars should pop into view easily even from light polluted city centres.
Castor is 51 light years away while Pollux is 34 light years distant. The mythology of the twins goes back to ancient Greece and centres on a set of twin boys who were the sons of Zeus and brothers of Helen of Troy, excellent horse riders and big adventrurers they were involved in all kinds of mischief.
Tags: Castor, Gemini, Pollux
Posted in Constellations, Stargazing, stars, The Moon | 262 Comments »
Tonight is a great opportunity to track down a beauty of an open cluster of stars, thanks to the Moon. Step outside around suppertime and find the near full Moon. Look to its upper right with a pair of binoculars and you will see hundreds of shimmering stars huddled together in a compact group located more than 2800 light years away.
Check out the colour of the stars and you will notice they are blue and white in colour which indicates to astronomers that these stars are fairly young – about 150 million years old. Compare that to our middle age sun which about 5 billion years old.
Meanwhile if you have a small telescope then you can try your hand at tracking down a nearby companion cluster to M35 that is a much more distant and ancient quarry – the open cluster NGC2158. Shining with a striking golden hue its member stars are crowded together more than its brighter, next door neighbour and are thought to be more than 1 billion years old and lying a whopping 16,000 light years from Earth. You will find it about 15 arc minutes (or half a full Moon disk away) to the lower right of M35.
Both clusters are in the constellation Gemini- the twins. How appropriate – a double-bill cosmic show!
Tags: Gemini, M35, NGC2158
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Late Friday, after 11 pm, rising in the eastern sky will be the waning gibbous Moon. You can use it as a guidepost tonight only to find a beautiful deep-sky gem. It wll park itself to the upper left of a star cluster – separated by 1.2 degrees – about two full moon disks apart.
Popular with backyard astronomers, M35 is a striking open star cluster fist catalogued back in 1746 by a French astronomer. It’s home is in the constellation Gemini, at the foot stars of the Gemini twins.
You can see it with the naked eye under a dar sky – tonight with the Moon’s glare in the way – you will need binoculars to see it clearly. But now that you know where it is in the sky, try to find it again tomorrow night and after, when the Moon has moved farther away. Binoculars will resolve the brighter members of this cluster and a small telescope under low magnification will really show it off at its best. M35 is a loose association of about 200 young stars still huddled together, from the time they were born a couple hundred million years ago. Eventually over many thousands of yars they will wander off in different directions, dissolving the cluster formation. But for now we get to enjoy this cosmic wonder that sits 2,800 light years away from Earth.
Early Sunday morning the Moon will have moved closer to the planet Mars, parking itself to the upper right of the Red Planet, and by Monday morning it will be just under it and much closer- about 6 full moon disks apart.
Editor’s Note: This post originally mistakenly referred to Saturday night for the Moon/M35 pairing, which should instead have been for Friday night. We apologize for the cosmic mix-up
Tags: Gemini, M35, open cluster
Posted in Constellations, Solar System, Stargazing, stars | 153 Comments »