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Geminid meteors visible from mid-month

Full moon occurs around the publication of this issue of Midweek, which means that bright orb washes out most of anything else worth seeing. By 14th, the moon will be out of the way during the evening, so there’s a good chance of seeing the Geminid meteors.

Of course, the sun gets in the way in mid-evening, with twilight lingering to almost 11pm. However, the constellation of Gemini is only just rising at that time in the northeast. You need to forsake your bed for a couple more hours to see the meteors at their best, around 1am. The good old moon will rise shortly after, so that would be a good time to head for the kip.

From midnight to 1am of the 15th you should see 40 to 50 meteors an hour coming out of the northeast sky. The Geminid meteors are produced by the atmospheric entry of the particles left behind by a huge 5km wide asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. You will need to be under a dark sky to see these at best. Get far away from town lights.

Some of the larger meteoroids [which is technically what we call the physical particles] may produce fireballs. These can make really awesome displays that can illuminate the ground with an eerie green light. It’s well worth staying up with the hope of seeing one of these.

While waiting for the next streaker you should look around that northeast sky, as it is quite spectacular, and of course it will be throughout most of December. Orion is prominent there with his straight-line belt of three stars. Further towards north, the horns of Taurus the bull are prominent, with red Mars matching colours with the star Aldebaran while the little Matariki cluster seems to hover nearby.

I was hoping to get you a Christmas star, and bright Venus usually does the trick even though it is not a star. Unfortunately, on the 25th Venus will be right down on the western horizon just after sunset and may be impossible to see in the sunset glow. However, the moon may make a good substitute Christmas star.

After 9.45, looking just above where the sun set an hour previously, you may see the one-day-old moon as the tiniest slither of a thing. A few days later, on the 29th, the now plumped up crescent moon sits right by the planet Jupiter.

Wishing all readers the best of times over the holiday. And stay safe. Do not get burned by our own star.

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