One of the best meteor showers of the year will peak Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday, and it looks like the weather will cooperate to accommodate good viewing — if you’re willing to get up in the middle of the night to check it out.
The annual Geminids meteor shower began Dec. 4 and ends Friday, but the peak will occur at 2 a.m. Tuesday when skies over Denver are forecast to be partly cloudy. While shooting stars probably will be visible for much of the night, a moon that will be 79% full (the full moon occurs Saturday) could impair viewing until it sets at 1:55 a.m. During the peak, it may be possible to see 50 meteors per hour.
While finding a place without light pollution might make it possible to see the fainter meteors, it’s not necessary to get out of town to see the show.
“The Geminids are known for having a lot of really bright, white meteors,” said John Keller, director of the Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado. “This is not the time to go on a huge road trip.”
It’s also not necessary to get up after the moon sets in the middle of the night to watch for the Geminids.
“I’ve seen many good Geminids around 9, 10, 11 at night,” Keller said. “People just need to know that there will be a bright moon in the sky, so that may limit some of the contrast.”
The Geminids take their name from Gemini because they appear to radiate from that constellation. Gemini will be rising in the east after sunset and will pass overhead in the early morning hours. Gemini may be difficult for you to identify if you’re not trained in where to look, but it’s near an easily identified neighbor, Orion. Look for a group of three stars relatively close together that appear to be situated in a straight line. That’s Orion’s belt.
“If you can find Orion, the Geminids will be radiating from above the upper left of Orion,” Keller said. “The meteors are shooting in all different directions away from that center. But you don’t want to look there, you want to look toward Orion.”
Temperatures in Denver at 2 a.m. are predicted to be around 40 degrees.