That hardy soul, John Moran, donned his duffle coat and ventured out into the freezing night last week in search of meteors. And in case you missed the shower this Shadow and Substance animation shows what they should look like.
The last time I wrote a piece about one of the annual meteor showers was the 13th August Perseids, and back then I had to comment on what other people had seen, as I had no chance because of the cloud cover.
This time I'm happy to report that I had quite a successful Geminid meteor hunt. My viewing conditions were far from perfect as I was surrounded by street lights. Nonetheless within 30 seconds of bending my neck upwards, I had seen two Geminids streak just below their target constellation Gemini. As it was a very cold night, I had wrapped up well but was still only able to stand outside for about an hour before finally succumbing to the cold. In the first half hour alone I had seen 7 and the final half hour I saw 3 more. The actual date of the Geminids maximum was to be 14th December but since this window started at 10.30pm on the 13th I thought I'd start looking from my back garden, which is more or less in the city centre of Liverpool, hence all the street lights, and my plan was to take a drive somewhere nice and dark on the 14th. I'm very glad I decided to have a go from the garden as the next day on the 14th there was the usual depressing cloud cover that normally defeats me.
The Geminids are one of the most abundant meteor showers of the year, with a Zenith maximum rate of 75 meteors per hour. They are also quite unique in that their parent comet isn't a comet at all but an asteroid called Phaeton, and because of this the stony material that forms the shooting star is denser and so can take longer to burn up in our atmosphere giving us a better chance of making our wish before it burns out. A colleague of mine was driving to work on the morning of the 14th and as she was looking out of her windscreen she saw probably one of the last Geminids of the night before it started to get light.
So as you can imagine I'm feeling quite smug about actually getting the chance to see one of the better annual meteor showers of the year. And my smugness isn't due to the fact that I got to see them while others didn't, but because I usually end up cursing the weather for spoiling the opportunity, and always feel that it deliberately clouds over just when I get excited about it. So the score for the year is Weather 9 v John 2.
One more thing, don't forget about the last meteor shower of the year, the Ursids, which peak on the 23rd December and has an hourly rate of 5. Although this is quite low they can be quite rich and so are still well worth a look.