Geminid Meteor Shower

As we enter the winter months ahead, we can at least take some comfort in knowing that as the days get shorter and the nights draw in earlier, we now have the opportunity to see and appreciate our star-studded skies before teatime, which become even more interesting the longer you stay up.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen the planet Mars, positively glowing with reddish brilliance, chasing the planets Jupiter and Saturn across our southern skies, and in the next few weeks, we have another exciting astronomical event to look forward to.

The Geminid Meteor Shower is expected to peak on 13th and 14th December, with the possibility of seeing 120 meteors per hour in the early hours of the morning. The meteors will emerge from the constellation Gemini, hence their name, and unlike other meteor showers that result from the earth’s orbit intersecting the exhaust tail of a comet, the Geminids are different in that they result from the earth ploughing into the debris from an asteroid – in this case 3200 Phaethon. In Greek mythology, Phaethon was supposedly the son of Helios, who took a somewhat disastrous first driving lesson in his father’s chariot carrying the Sun across the sky (look it up!).

You don’t need any special equipment to observe the Geminids. All you’ll need is a clear night sky, somewhere away from street lights or other sources of light pollution, and plenty of patience. Here are some tips to make your meteor-gazing experience an enjoyable one:

  • Please wrap up really warm and make yourself comfortable by taking a camping chair or a blanket, and have something warm to eat or drink like a flask of hot chocolate.
  • Once you have found a dark location, wait a while, and let your eyes adjust to the darkness (can take 15-20 minutes). Avoid looking at any white light during this time (including your mobile phone), as white light will destroy your nighttime vision and it will take another 15 minutes for your eyes to adapt again to the darkness. If you need to take a torch, use one with a red lens as red-light does not affect your nighttime vision. If you don’t have a red-light torch, why not paint the lens of your normal (spare) torch with some red nail varnish (it works a treat!).
  • Then just wait, and watch the spectacle above.
Image by Jacob Hunter

Light pollution

Light pollution emanating from nearby towns and cities is diminishing our dark skies, even in the more remote areas of the countryside. Much of it is caused by street lighting, however, even at a local level,  the poor choice and installation of blue-white (cool-white) LED floodlights on the outside of our homes and businesses is contributing to the loss of the night in rural areas too.

Understandably, many of us living in rural areas need some form of outside lighting for safety and security reasons, but we don’t necessarily always need so much light, and if we do need light, we can doing simple things to make it better for everyone.

Top tips for conserving our dark skies:

  • Make sure your outside lights are either fully-shielded or angled downwards, so that no light is able to shine upwards into the night sky
  • Cool-white LED lighting (any lamp above 4000K) can be disruptive to nocturnal wildlife and can affect our sleeping patterns as it replicates ‘daylight’ at night. Please choose LED lights that emit a warm-white light instead i.e. choosing a bulb that has a colour temperature below 3000 Kelvin.
  • Avoid over-lighting and any intense glare by choosing a low wattage LED light. A modern 5w LED bulb is equivalent to a 60w incandescent light bulb and is ideal for most domestic uses.

For more information, download the ‘Good Practice Guide for Outside Lighting’.