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Geminid Meteor Shower 2009

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martinastro
Martin Mc Kenna
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« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2009, 05:52:28 pm »

Nationwide Geminid Watch 2009

Astronomy is one of the few areas where amateurs can make a real contribution to science. You might think that you need to be an 'expert' to contribute data which will have real scientific value. This could not be further from the truth.

This year Astronomy Ireland is urging everybody to count meteors (shooting stars) between December 11th and 15th. This nationwide count coincides with the maximum of the Geminid meteor shower.

The Geminids are a particularly interesting meteor shower as the numbers of meteors observed per hour (the Zenithal Hourly Rate, or ZHR) actually appears to be increasing each year. Meteors are often called 'shooting stars' but in reality, meteors are not connected with stars at all. In fact they are tiny pieces of debris (often no bigger than a grain of sand) which hit our atmosphere at very high speed and instantly vaporise. Geminid meteors are in fact tiny pieces of an unusual comet-like asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon. Each year our planet intersects the stream of debris which is left behind by this asteroid as it orbits the Sun once every 523 days.

This year the maximum of the Geminid meteor shower occurs around the nights of December 13th/14th (Sunday night/Monday morning) and 14th/15th (Monday night/Tuesday morning). These will be the prime nights for meteor observing. However if possible observers are requested to observe on the nights of December 12th/13th and 15th/16th too. This is because meteor showers are highly unpredictable and often produce other peaks in activity which are not well known. By observing on all of these nights you may well be the person who discovers a sub-peak in meteor activity!

Of course you don't need to observe on all of these nights to produce useful data, even if you only have an hour or two to spare on one night your observations are valuable. In making such a count you are producing real scientific data which will have real value to those who study meteor showers.

You need to make your meteor count using a standard methodology which we describe below. Only if you follow the instructions given will your observation have scientific value. However, you may of course make a non-standardised observation. We will do our best to publish all observations of the Geminid meteor shower in an upcoming edition of our magazine, 'Astronomy & Space'. Before we describe the process of making a scientific count of this meteor shower, let's have a look at some general tips for observing the Geminids.

Tips for observing The Geminids

You will see the most meteors when you are well away from sources of light-pollution such as cities and towns.  Aim to spend some time at a dark location in the countryside, if possible.
 
Don't forget to wrap up well.  Many layers of lighter clothes are better than one heavy layer.  A woolly or fleece hat is essential.  Keep your head, hands and feet warm and you won't get too cold.  If you get cold you will not enjoy the experience.

Take a flask of hot soup or tea/coffee (alcohol is a bad idea as it will actually make you colder).
 
A comfortable observing chair which enables you to look upwards without causing neck strain is a distinct advantage (but not essential). Seasoned meteor observers will bring a sleeping bag if they are planning a lengthy session.
 
If you have a pair of binoculars, take them along to observe 'trains' left behind by the brighter meteors.
 
IMPORTANT:  On any clear night you will see many other meteors which are not Geminids.  These are known as 'Sporadic' meteors.  You can tell they are not Geminids because their path does not trace back to the radiant in Gemini.  You should ignore these for the purposes of your count (or at least note them clearly as 'Sporadics' in your report).

The highest rates can be seen when the radiant point is highest in the sky.  The radiant for the Geminids will be at its highest point at approximately 3.30am on any morning over the weekend.  You can of course observer before and after this but you will see more meteors around this time. In fact, any time after midnight is usually better than before, because after midnight this side of the Earth will be facing into the cloud of dust that cause the Geminids.



The above map shows the location of the Moon for each day over the weekend. The lines in green show roughly how and where the Geminid meteors will appear. Note how they will all point back towards the constellation Gemini.

So how do I make an observation which has scientific value?

The secret is recording in some detail exactly what you see.

Before recording your observations allow about 10 minutes for your eyes to become fully dark adapted.
After 20 minutes you will need to record the following:

The percentage of sky that's visible at your locations
Which direction you are looking
How to record these is described below.

Your note should be a percentage of the total sky.  Any areas which are obscured by cloud or local items like trees or buildings should be estimated and you should only note the percentage of sky you can actually see.  Should this change during your session note the changes as they occur (about every half hour or so).

Now with your eyes dark adapted, your limiting magnitude and sky visibility determined, you should now sit back and start counting meteors.  But which way should you face??

All meteor showers appear to radiate from a single point in the sky.  During the Geminids, that point is in the constellation of Gemini, which is located in the south-east, 'above' Orion.

You now need to record each Geminid that you see noting clearly the following.

Time - Note the time to the nearest second that you saw the meteor.
Geminid or Sporadic? - Remember that all Geminids will point back towards the Moon. Sporadic meteors will radiate from elsewhere, so be sure to note clearly what kind of meteor it is.

Now here's the thing!!  You need to spend as much time as possible observing meteors and not looking down at your notes.  The best way to record your observations is with a portable tape recorder or other audio recording device.  That way you never need to look away from the sky.  If you do choose to make your notes on paper then you should also note at the end of your session, the percentage of time you spent looking at your notes instead of the sky (don't worry nobody is going to tell you off for this!).  Ensure your recording device has enough capacity for the time you plan to spend observing.

We have produced a printable summary of the above and a observation log book that you can download and print and use to assist you in your observations.

Checklist

Before you set off for your meteor count check you have brought at least the following:
 
Warm Clothes/Sleeping Bag (as described above)
Hot Drink/Food(remember alcohol is a bad idea)
Observing Chair (also described above)
RED Torch (DO NOT use a white light torch as this will spoil your dark adaptation and if you are observing with others this will cause your companions great irritation!)
Time Piece - Bring a clock or watch which you can clearly see in the dark (with your red torch).  Before you go sychronise the time with a known accurate time source such as http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/. Astronomers usually use Universal Time (also known as GMT) which is currently the time we are using now (it will change in Spring).
Binoculars (Do not spend too much time looking through these as you may miss important meteors)
Recording Media - This can be a pencil and paper or preferably a tape recorder/dicta phone.
Copies of Charts given above
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brianb
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« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2009, 07:57:21 pm »

Quote
Last night was quite stunning, I ended up seeing 6 Geminids by accident from just causal glances at the sky. Two of them appeared at the same time so the activity is looking good already. Set-up the scope at 05.00 to search for comet Siding Spring then out of nowhere thick fog moved in and ended the session. It's still here now as I write this.
Hmm, I was out most of the night & saw rather few meteors for this time of year. The fog stayed away until the dawn twilight was really bright (I'd packed up, not much point in attempting to image moon or planets as the seeing was horrible) but it's been here ever since.
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« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2009, 09:56:22 pm »

...and it's still here now, was out driving in it and it was really dangerous.
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« Reply #18 on: December 10, 2009, 10:34:23 pm »

I seen my first geminid tonight around 20-15ish it is a pity about the fog martin i heard on the radio toome and maghera where very bad with heavy fog this evening it is patchy here take care while out driving.

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« Reply #19 on: December 13, 2009, 06:21:42 am »

Just in from 2 sessions 0200-0325UT and 0400-0600UT beautiful clear skies apart from a brief cloudy period around 0515. Saw 77 geminids in total and 10 sporadics. Activity looks pretty good 24hrs away from peak. Right off to bed to thaw out my nose and toes, bloody freezing out there but I enjoyed it.  Smiley
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martinastro
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« Reply #20 on: December 13, 2009, 07:11:41 pm »

Geminid activity was excellent last night.  Did a watch from 03.20 - 06.20 UT (3 hours) and seen 157 meteors of which 135 were Geminids. The first hour produced 57 Gems, I even saw 3 in 2 sec's. Many of them fell as triplets.
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« Reply #21 on: December 13, 2009, 09:05:07 pm »

Wow! Amazing reports guys!  Wink

It has cleared here a few hours ago, so I'm going now for Geminids but probably not more than 1 hour (the main reasons are no time to sleep and -12 degrees on termometer)  Embarrassed
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« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2009, 11:12:37 pm »

Very bad fog here, I was able to see a few stars overhead earlier but nothing now Sad
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« Reply #23 on: December 13, 2009, 11:37:52 pm »

drizzle here Sad couldn't really be worse. But mondays forecast is partly cloudy... will try then despite -10 F temps brrrrr....
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« Reply #24 on: December 13, 2009, 11:46:17 pm »

Tonight I observed 23 meteors (20 GEM, 1 MON, 2 SPO) during 1 hour (23:36-00:37 EET). Just as I ended my session, stood up and turned back I saw an amazing Geminid low above the horizon in the opposite direction (Andromeda) - it was fast, bright (~3.5m), had strange yellow/blue colour, short-lasting trail.

I hope to have more time next night.  Smiley
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« Reply #25 on: December 14, 2009, 12:03:44 am »

Clear skies forecast but clouded out here...I here it's clear over Randalstown now. As soon as I see stars I'm heading out....
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« Reply #26 on: December 14, 2009, 12:59:30 am »

NBG here. Usual "meteor shower weather" ... you'd think the Met Office could factor this into their cloud cover predictions.
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« Reply #27 on: December 14, 2009, 01:13:09 am »

Still a dead loss here, IR sat images showing lots of high level cloud which could be here all night - what a disappointment, and to think that every TV forecast gave clear skies  Angry
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« Reply #28 on: December 14, 2009, 01:54:09 am »

 I have clear skies here from around 1230 although broken cloud starting to drift in now.
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« Reply #29 on: December 14, 2009, 02:18:47 am »

Good to hear you got some clear skies Paul...so far nothing here but cloud.
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