Astronomical advice: catching a glimpse of the Geminids meteor shower

By Isabella Lamshed December 13, 2018
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Want to know the best way to view 2018’s most impressive meteor shower?

THIS FRIDAY 14 December, one of the best meteor showers of the year is set to hit the skies – the Geminids. At its peak, astronomers estimate up to 120 shooting stars will be visible per hour, or two every minute.

While this may sound promising, it is often the case that meteor showers come and go without a single glint of starry sky action – due to cloudy weather, light pollution or poor timing. To help you increase your chances of catching a glimpse of this year’s Geminids meteor shower, we spoke to Curator and Astronomer at the MAAS Sydney Observatory, Dr Andrew Jacob.

Plan your timing

Some things are difficult to plan for when stargazing, such as the weather. But where possible, Dr Jacob recommends pre-planning a few of the elements that you can control. This means being in the right place at the right time.

“For Sydneysiders, the best time to view the Geminids will be Friday the 14th, from about 11pm,” advises Dr Jacob. “However, the sky will darken once the moon sets, at about 1am, making the stars seem even brighter.” Peak times vary only slightly across the rest of Australia.

Plan your location

Like all starry skies, the further away you are from city and street lights, the more visible the stars become. Dr Jacobs says that those in the country side will have the best seats in the house. But, if you find yourself in a city or large town, don’t despair.

“Try to find the darkest (and safest) place you can – a large park, a coastal headland, a suburb on the outskirts or the top of a hill,” suggests Dr Jacob. “This will give you the best chance. However, from a city site only the brightest meteors will be visible.”

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show

Once you’ve found your ideal location, Dr Jacobs suggests turning your stargazing night into a cosy event. “Take a blanket, wear something warm, and bring yourself something yummy to snack on – you could be awake for a while yet,” he says.

Then, then wait for the magic to happen.

According to Dr Jacob, “it takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the darkness. Every minute or two (more often if we are lucky) you will see a bright meteor fly silently overhead.” The meteors should even vary in size, brightness and colour.

“Some will leave short trails, some will be faint, and some meteors will cross the whole sky from north to south, shining brightly and even showing a hint of colour,” says Dr Jacob.

“Once you see the first one you will be hooked for the night.”

Miss your chance on Friday?

“Luckily, the Geminids meteor shower should be visible all weekend – from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th,” says Dr Jacob. So, if the conditions are poor on Friday or you can’t seem to get outside, you can always try again on Saturday, and even again on Sunday.