Geminid Meteor Shower offers a brilliant weekend at the George!

The annual Geminid Meteor Shower peaks this weekend, and we’ve got some tips for stargazers hoping to catch it.

The Geminids are unique among meteor showers because they are associated not with a comet but with an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. Comet orbits are so oblong that that they cross Earth’s orbit almost at right angles. For most meteor showers, then, Earth doesn’t rotate us to face the debris field until after midnight. The less oblong orbit of an asteroid meets Earth’s orbit at a shallower angle. Thus, we rotate to face into the debris field earlier in the night, even before midnight. With Geminids, then, we see significant activity as early as 9 or 10 p.m., although the shower will likely peak just before dawn.


The Geminid meteor shower is one of the brightest, most active, and most remarkable annual stellar events.

A new moon falls on Thursday, Dec. 10 this year. That makes Sunday night’s moon a slender crescent which sets by 8 p.m. This should guarantee us nice, dark night for viewing once the shower gets going. The Geminid Meteor shower peaks every December and is one of the best, most reliable showers, producing an average of 100 meteors per hour.

They’re called the Geminids, by the way, because we see them seem to ‘radiate’ from an area of sky near Castor, a bright star in Gemini, the Twins. In December, Gemini is still rising at dusk, but it has cleared the horizon by 8 p.m., passes high overhead at about 1 a.m., and is in the west by dawn. Remember, though, that not all meteors will be in Gemini! They just seem to radiate from that direction, which means that wherever they appear, the streak will seem to move away from Gemini.


Therefore, it’s best to lie on your back so you can observe as much of the sky as possible at once. Remember to have patience, as the 100 meteors per hour is about one or two per minute on average. One minute can be a long time if you waiting for something to happen.


Weather permitting, telescopes, including the Gueymard Research Telescope, will be available for public use at the George Observatory until 10 p.m. during the Geminid Meteor Shower event.

As with all showers, the Geminid Meteor Shower will be best viewed away from city light pollution, weather permitting. The George Observatory will be open Sunday night until midnight for observation. For directions to The George, located just an hour southwest of Houston, click here. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park is $7 per person; free for kids under 12. You don’t need any special equipment for viewing, just a chair, blankets and maybe some hot apple cider.


Leonids Meteor Shower Tonight!

Don’t miss out on your chance to see the Leonids meteor shower, tonight and early tomorrow morning. It won’t be as strong as the yearly December Geminids or August Perseid meteor showers. However, the Leonids meteor shower could produce as many as 500 meteorites in an hour during its peak, which will be in Tuesday’s early predawn hours.

Perseid Meteor 8.12.09
Creative Commons License photo credit:

The Leonids will be less frequent and appear weaker this year than at the turn of the century. This is because from 1999 to 2002, the Earth was moving through a clump of debris left by comet Tempel-Tuttle. In those years the Leonids were strong enough to be considered a storm (over 1,000 meteorites per hour).

Now Tempel-Tuttle has receded from the Sun, taking its main debris clumps with it.  Therefore, the Leonid showers aren’t as dramatic anymore, typically averaging only about one every few minutes.  The 2009 Leonids are expected to be stronger than usual, but not nearly as good as at the beginning of the decade.  Although they may be few in number, many Leonid meteors are quite bright.

The meteors will seem to radiate from the constellation Leo, which will be high in the east (hence the name of the shower).  You’ll see approximately one meteor every 2 or 3 minutes, or fewer if clouds or city lights are present.