Tag Archives: Geminids

NASA Night Sky Notes for December 2018: Observe Apollo 8’s Lunar Milestones

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in December, 2018.

By David Prosper

December marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, when humans first orbited the Moon in a triumph of human engineering. The mission may be most famous for “Earthrise,” the iconic photograph of Earth suspended over the rugged lunar surface. “Earthrise” inspired the imaginations of people around the world and remains one of the most famous photos ever taken. This month also brings a great potential display of the Geminids and a close approach by Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

You can take note of Apollo 8’s mission milestones while observing the Moon this month. Watch the nearly full Moon rise just before sunset on December 21, exactly 50 years after Apollo 8 launched; it will be near the bright orange star Aldebaran in Taurus. The following evenings watch it pass over the top of Orion and on through Gemini; on those days five decades earlier, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders sped towards the Moon in their fully crewed command module. Notice how the Moon rises later each evening, and how its phase wanes from full on Dec 22 to gibbous through the rest of the week. Can you imagine what phase Earth would appear as if you were standing on the Moon, looking back? The three brave astronauts spent 20 sleepless hours in orbit around the Moon, starting on Dec 24, 1968. During those ten orbits they became the first humans to see with their own eyes both the far side of the Moon and an Earthrise! The crew telecast a holiday message on December 25 to a record number of Earthbound viewers as they orbited over the lifeless lunar terrain; “Good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” 50 years later, spot the Moon on these holiday evenings as it travels through Cancer and Leo. Just two days later the astronauts splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after achieving all the mission’s test objectives, paving the way for another giant leap in space exploration the following year.

The Geminids, an excellent annual meteor shower, peaks the evening of December 13 through the morning of the 14th. They get their chance to truly shine after a waxing crescent Moon sets around 10:30 pm on the 13th. Expert Geminid observers can spot around 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. You’ll spot quite a few meteors by avoiding bad weather and light pollution if you can, and of course make sure to bundle up and take frequent warming breaks. The Geminids have an unusual origin compared to most meteor showers, which generally spring from icy comets. The tiny particles Earth passes through these evenings come from a strange “rock comet” named asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This dusty asteroid experiences faint outbursts of fine particles of rock instead of ice.

You can also look for comet 46P/Wirtanen while you’re out meteor watching. Its closest approach to Earth brings it within 7.1 million miles of us on December 16. That’s 30 times the average Earth-Moon distance! While passing near enough to rank as the 10th closest cometary approach in modern times, there is no danger of this object striking our planet. Cometary brightness is hard to predict, and while there is a chance comet 46P/Wirtanen may flare up to naked eye visibility, it will likely remain visible only via binoculars or telescopes. You’ll be able to see for yourself how much 46P/Wirtanen actually brightens. Some of the best nights to hunt for it will be December 15 and 16 as it passes between two prominent star clusters in Taurus: the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades. Happy hunting!

Catch up on all of NASA’s past, current, and future missions at nasa.gov.

Caption: Earthrise, 1968. Note the phase of Earth as seen from the Moon. Nearside lunar observers see Earth go through a complete set of phases. However, only orbiting astronauts witness Earthrises; for stationary lunar observers, Earth barely moves at all. Why is that? Credit: Bill Anders/NASA

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“Upstate NY Stargazing In December” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in December: Geminid meteor shower, another Supermoon,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

The discussion is fairly Taurus-centric this month, and very much localized to that part of the sky with the Geminids, Supermoon, and Aldebaran occultation occurring all mid-month. This month also includes more event announcements for several NY astronomy clubs with posted December observing sessions, which reportedly worked out (too?) well for Baltimore Woods attendance.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2016/12/…_meteor_shower_another_supermoon.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2016/12/…_meteor_shower_another_supermoon.html

The Learn A Constellation section also includes one of my all-time favorite images. Among the many treasures in the Lascaux Cave paintings is one that very, very much looks like a simple constellation map of Orion’s Belt, the Pleiades, and the Hyades, with the Hyades superimposed on a drawing of a bull with extra-long horns – all a perfect match for that part of the sky.

Time may never tell if we can track down the descendants of the artist as they migrated through southern Europe and into the Middle East and North Africa, carrying the story of the great Bull in the Sky with them that ultimately became our constellation Taurus. The story of people and animals in the sky may not be in our distant folklore, but it did make its way into our DNA in the way that we see such pictures where none actually exist (better to be safe than sorry when that bump on the savanna turns out to be more toothy than the usual mount of dirt).

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Caption: No bull – a Lascaux painting marking the location of an ancient Taurus, c.a. 15,500 B.C. Click for a larger view.

2015 Geminid Meteor Shower Sessions At Baltimore Woods – Event And Weather Updates

UPDATE: Sunday, December 13th, 6:00 p.m.

We’re going to try for Monday night (Dec. 14th) instead given the poor conditions over Marcellus and the hope that patchy forecasts tomorrow will mean holes enough to see meteors. Check back around 5:00 p.m. Monday evening for a final announcement.

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

As of 9:00 a.m. Sunday, the weather is only looking slightly promising for Bob Piekiel’s scheduled session at Baltimore Woods, and for the observing of any Geminids from CNY in general. According to the current Clear Sky Clock

2014december13_geminidcsc

… there may be a slight amount of clearing this evening. While the CSC looks a little better for some of tomorrow night, the other forecasts you might see online differ as to if and how much rain to expect.

We’ll make a final post here and on our Facebook Group page around 5:00 p.m. In the meantime, if you’re in a location with a large clear patch over the next few days, this handy-dandy sky chart from Sky & Telescope gives you all the important information. If you can find Orion’s Belt, you’re well on your way to orienting yourself for the Geminids.

Map of the Geminids from Sky & Telescope. Click for a larger view.

For all sorts of useful info on Meteor Showers in general, have a look at our CNYO Brochure:

A Guide To Meteor Showers