Monday, December 15, 2014
Showers of Blessing
This time of year I normally don't have much to say about meteor shower watching. We usually talk about the Perseid shower in August and justifiably so. It is a strong, regular shower with many bright meteors with long trails. However, there is also a good, reliable one in December. Most often it peaks during my school's first semester exam week, so I tend to not mention it. Well this year the peak was on the weekend, Saturday, December 13 to be exact. I informed all my classes about the shower. Most showers have an extended period (7 to 10 days) when meteors associated with it can be seen in the night sky. Somewhere in the middle of that span is a maximum. That is usually the best time to go out and look for meteors. Unfortunately, the best time to view most meteor showers is between midnight and dawn. The Geminid shower in December is an exception. You can see quite a few meteors before midnight since the radiant is so high above the horizon. This shower also favors the northern hemisphere.
All these factors came together to make this years Geminid meteor shower the most viewed meteor shower by my students since the Leonid showers of 1999, 2000 and 2001. I was out looking for one hour and saw 30, most of faint to average brightness. There were a couple brighter ones with nice long trails. It was a bit nippy for us Floridians, but I bundled up and found a reasonably dark place to view from. The time flew by. It felt great to see so many meteors. Not everyone gets excited about seeing a few streaks of light going across the sky, but you will never know until you try it. Most meteors from showers come from debris off comets (usually) or asteroids (uncommon). The sight of one of these sand-grain sized cometary detritus entering our atmosphere at speeds up to 70,000 milers per hour can startle and amaze you. Please plan on trying with friends and/or family this next year. This site has a list of the major showers and their dates for 2015: http://www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/meteor-shower-calendar/
On another note, today, Monday, December 15, 2014 is a minor marker in my countdown to retirement. As of tonight I have 99 school days left in my teaching career, double digits. The countdown on this blog site includes weekends and holidays so it will be a while until it says 99. But school days are what count, right?
We start Christmas vacation (officially Winter Break) next week. I am undecided if I will post anything over the break. I'll see how the spirit moves. In any event I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and whatever other holiday you celebrate.