Monday, December 3, 2012

The Geminids are coming, the Geminids are coming!

Everybody loves shooting stars and we should be in for a bunch of them later this month.  It's December already and that means that the Geminid meteor shower is coming.  The Geminids are caused by the dust and debris of an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon and they will peak on Thursday evening the 13th into Friday morning the 14th.  Conditions are right to produce up to 100 visible meteors per hour this year, so put on your parka, grab a glass of something to keep you warm and find a place with a view of the eastern sky in the constellation of Gemini (just to the left of Orion as an easy reference point) (viewers in the warmer climes can skip the parka - and if you live in the southern hemisphere sorry, you're just plain out of luck).

December also brings the winter solstice for us in the northern hemisphere and this year it occurs at 6:12 a.m. on Friday the 21st.  Whatever holiday you celebrate to mark the occasion I hope it is a happy one.  The winter solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year, and then the days grow longer (and some say the cold grows stronger), so Spring cannot be far behind - now that's something worth celebrating!

December 21 also marks the end of the Mayan calendar, an event which some say will mark the end of the world but which others regard as just the start of another cycle of the calendar - check back with me on December 22 to see who was right.

The full moon, my second favorite night sky event after shooting stars, is at 5:21 a.m. on the 28th so the viewing should be excellent (weather permitting) on the night before as well as the night of - enjoy both nights if possible!  The full moon in December is called the Long Night Moon, which I'm guessing is a literal reference to the solstice, because if the full moon occurs before Christmas it's called the Moon Before Yule.

Here's my musical tribute to the December night sky - "Winter Solstice" by Cold Specks.  I'm willing to bet you've never heard this before, so enjoy the song and enjoy the astronomical wonders of the December night sky - it's all good!

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