Geminids on the Teide Observatory. The OGS Telescope (ESA) is shown in the foreground. Centered on the image the constellation of Orion and the most brilliant object is the Planet Jupiter. Credit. Juan Carlos Casado (starryearth).
During the nights of 12th and 13th of December we will enjoy the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. This will be broadcast live from the Teide Observatory (Tenerife) and from the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory ( La Palma) via the sky-live.tv channel, with the collaboration with the Energy Efficiency Labs (EELabs project of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the Programme of Astronomical Outreach of SODEPAL and the Innovation Service of the Cabildo Insular of La Palma.
During the past decade the Geminids have always bid farewell to the year by producing over 100 meteors per hour (Zenith Hourly Rate, ZHR) which puts them in the annual front rank of meteor showers, together with the Perseids and the Cuandrantids.
The Geminids will show their peak of activity, as they do every year, in mid-December. For 2020 the activity of the Geminids will occur between the 4th and the 17th December. The maximum is expected at 00:50 UT on December 14th. The nights of 12/13 and 13/14 December will be the best times for observing this meteor shower.
How to observe the Geminids 2020
In what direction should we look? The meteors appear to be coming from a point, the radiant, in the constellation of Gemini (hence the Geminids), which is near the well known constellation of Orion. This year the new moon will make the observation easier, and it will be able to enjoy this meteor shower in all its intensity. It is most practical to fix one’s view on one area of the sky and keep it there for at least a few minutes in order to detect a Geminid or two. It may be best to lie on the ground, suitably protected. And above all you need to be patient.
The Geminids can be observed from both hemispheres. Even though the activity is greater in the northern hemisphere than in the south, because the radiant is higher above the horizon, quite a lot of the Geminids can still be observed in southern skies.
An eclipsed meteor shower
Although we in the northern hemisphere will look at the sky during the early hours of the 14th to see this spectacular meteor shower a narrow strip of land in Chile and Argentina have another motive to look up at the sky on that day. During about 2 minutes they will be able to see a total eclipse of the Sun (all the information on https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2020Dec14Tgoogle.html)
Superconjunction of Jupiter and Saturn
During the last few months Jupter and Saturn have been getting steadily closer in the sky, but it will be in this month when they reach the mínimum distance between them, on the 21st of December to be exact. “ The apparent distance between Jupiter and Saturn will get to be as small as 1/10 of a degree, which is six arcminutes, 1/5 of the average diameter of the Sun or the Moon” explains Alfred Rosenberg, outreach astrophysicist at the IAC. “In fact they will get so close that they can be observed through a telescope at the same time, distinguishing the bands of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, and some of the satellites. But the linear distance between the two planets will be about five times bigger than the distance from the Earth to the Sun” .
It is easy to see this event with the naked eye, by looking carefully at the sky every day after sunset, because in a couple of hours they will disappear below the horizon at around the same point at which the Sun has set.
In order to facilitate and organize the activities around this event the Federation of Astronomical Associations of Spain, in collaboration with Europlanet Society-Spain & Portugal Regional Hub, the Spanish Astronomical Society, Astronomers without Borders, the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach and the International Astronomical UNion (IAU) will group in their webs some of the observatories, amateur astronomers, and universities who have organized to offer equipment, to perform activities including outreach, and encourage participation in observations of this “Meeting of the Giants”
Daughters of an asteroid
So called “shooting star” are really tiny dust particles of different sizes ( between fractions of millimetres and centimetres in diameter) which are left behind by comets, (or occasionally asteroids) during their orbits round the sun, due to the evaporation produced by the Sun’s heat. The resulting cloud of particles (termed meteoroids) are dispersed along the orbit of the comet, and is crossed each year by the Earth in its orbit round the Sun. During this encounter the meteoroids are heated by friction when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high velocity. They evaporate completely or partially, giving rise to the well know brilliant trails or “shooting stars”, which are scientifically termed meteors. Those meteors which survive the atmospheric friction impact on the surface of the Earth and are then called meteorites.
Normally the originators of these meteor showers are comets, but in the case of the Geminids, not so. A small asteroid (32009 Faeton, is the supposed originator of the Geminids, an idea postulated in 1983, which is still a puzzle for the astronomers. The team led by Dave Jewitt (UCLA), using NASA’s STEREO space probe, our eyes on the Sun to “hunt” asteroids and comets as they approached it, realised in 2010 that Faeton was showing a growth in its brightness. This was something new, which they called a “rocky comet”. Is it a hybrid between an asteroid and a comet? To summarize, this is a curious asteroid which gets so close to the Sun, every 1.4 years, similar to the approach of a comet, that the Sun’s heat “burns off” the residual layers of dust which cover its rocky surface, which forms a “dusty tail”. Javier Licandro (IAC) an expert in the small bodies of the Solar System comments that “(3200) Faeton, with a diameter of 4 to 5 km, is a complete destroyer”. If it collided with the Earth it would produce a global catastrophe which would wipe out species, including probably our own. Even so Faeton is a minor risk in the list of potentially dangerous bodies of this type. Even so we need to monitor it, because the orbits of these small asteroids which pass close to the Earth are subject to many effects which could, at some future date, move their orbits and give rise to a collision.
This meteor shower, one of the most attractive for many researchers was first observed in 1862.
“Since 2012 we have been following the Geminids carefully from the Teide Observatory, and they have always given us a major spectacle. This year the presence of the full Moon will make it hard to see the fainter meteors. Our recommendation is to observe during the early hours of the night when the Moon is still not far above the horizon. The Geminids, as opposed to the Perseids, are slow meteors and so it is easier to “catch” them. In spite of the cold is always worth trying to observe the Geminids” comments Miquel Serra-Ricaft (IAC).
Live from the Canary Islands Observatories
Among the outreach initiatives of the European proroject EELabs (eelabs.eu) the sky-live.tv channel will broadcast the meteor shower live from the Teide Observatory (IAC, Tenerife, Canary Islands) and from the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma), thanks to the collaboration of the MAGIC telescopes and the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory/Large-Sized Telescope (LST-1).
The date will be next Sunday, 13th December at 22:30 UT-local time /23:30 CET
Sounds of the Sky: Citizen science and accessible astronomy
During the live event we will be able to listen to a meteor shower via Sounds of the Sky
This project, funded by the FECYT, with the collaboration of the IAC, the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the Kepler Teaching Group, and the Astronomical Group of Madrid South, aims to bring Astronomy to people with seeing difficulties using sounds, and offers citizen science experiments to classify the meteors (link at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/cslab-upm/sonidos-del-cielo/).
EELabs (eelabs.eu) is a project funded by the program INTERREG V-A MAC 2014-2020, co-financed by FEDER (European Fund for Regional Development) of the European Union, under contract MAC2/4.6d/238. 5 centres in Maraconesia (IAC, ITER, UPGC, SPEA-Azores, SPEA-Madeira) work in EELabs. The objective of EELabs is to create Laboratories to measure the energy efficiency of the artificial night-time lighting in natural protected areas of Maraconesia (the Canaries, Maderia, and Azores).
Three supercomputing centres: The el Centro Extremeño de Tecnologías Avanzadas (CETA-CIEMAT), the Consorci de Serveis Universitaris de Catalunya (CSUC) and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) are collaborating in the distribution of the broadcast on the web portal (sky-live.tv).
High resolution images and videos Geminids: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmKwTM67
Brilliant Geminid 2016: https://flic.kr/p/Yxt6y2
High resolution meteor showers: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjH2BFa4
Audiovisual material Eclipses: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjH3bPth
Travel in a comet: https://youtu.be/iCoqxLjMmmU
Simulation orbit Geminids: https://www.meteorshowers.org/view/Geminids
Activity of the Geminids 2019: https://www.imo.net/members/imo_live_shower?shower=GEM&year=2019