The next couple of nights offer some of the best skywatching of the year. For one thing, the brilliant planet Jupiter soars high across the south during the night. It far outshines the other pinpoints of light in the sky for most of the night, so you can’t miss it. And the only pinpoint that outshines it — the planet Venus, the “morning star” — rises before dawn, flanked by two other planets; we’ll have more about Venus tomorrow.
And to spice things up a bit more, one of the year’s best meteor showers is at its peak, with no Moon in the way to spoil the show.
The Geminid shower actually peaks during the daylight hours tomorrow as seen from the United States. That means that tonight and tomorrow night are both pretty good nights for viewing the shower.
The shower is named for the constellation Gemini. That’s because if you trace the paths of its meteors across the sky, they all appear to originate in Gemini. So the best view of the shower comes after Gemini climbs high into the sky in late evening. The meteors can actually streak across any part of the sky, though, so you don’t have to look toward Gemini to see them.
The shower’s peak might produce a hundred or more meteors per hour. Since the peak comes during daylight here in the U.S., the nighttime rates will be lower. But there should still be enough meteors to make the shower worth looking for — streaks of light accenting a great night of skywatching.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.