The best and most reliable meteor shower of the year are the Geminids at 120 meteors per hour on early Monday December 14. The second best are the Quadrantids at 120/hr on January 4 but these last only for a few hours. The Perseids are better known, since they occur on August 13 when it’s nice and warm out. But they’re actually number three on the list at 100 meteors per hour.
Since the new Moon occurs on Dec 11, the sky will be dark so we should see even the fainter meteors. The peak should occur around 10am in the morning, Dec 14, persisting for 24 hours. But 2am is fine when the shower’s radiant point, Gemini, rises high in the sky to the East. The meteors are the sand, dust and gravel remains of an Apollo asteroid (3200 Phaethon), coming in at medium speeds of 35km/second. (That’s a medium speed for a meteor. Other meteor shower velocities range from 11 to 72 km/s.) The Geminids come in various colours–65% being white, 26% yellow, and the remaining 9% blue, red and green. They’re active from Dec 4 until Thursday Dec 17. Last night I saw a bright yellow tinted fireball zip across Orion crossing a quarter of the Southern sky, leaving a shorter glowing trail along the last third of it’s flight; and another fireball went across Taurus just two minutes later. Last night I saw a bright yellow tinted fireball zip across Orion crossing a quarter of the Southern sky, leaving a shorter glowing trail along the last third of it’s flight; and another fireball went across Taurus just two minutes later.
Which direction is best to look? Where it’s darkest. As you can see in these composite photos from last year, the fireballs scatter all over the sky, radiating out from Gemini to the East. But when you watch the area around Gemini, the streaks there are shorter and slower moving. These fisheye photos show the whole sky as a circle: North is up, South down, East to the left, and West to right.
These photos were taken from Cranbrook, BC with the College of the Rockies meteor cam.
Below is a starmap looking East around 11pm on Dec 14. Note Gemini the Twins rising due East, just left of Orion the Hunter. Look for two bright stars, Castor over top of the other, Pollux. Gemini the Twins used to be a benevolent guide for the ancient Sailers. In movies you sometimes hear old sailors exclaim “By Jiminy!”. Sirius is the very bright star along the SouthEastern horizon below Orion. Taurus the Bull is the “>” shape above Orion, with the red eye of Aldebaran. The Pleiades are a small fuzzy patch above that.
These pictures are pixelated to fit in this small window–right click and open image in a new tab to zoom in more.