Geminids 2021: the last wishes of the year

Some of the brightest Geminids that sky-live.tv's videomaker Daniel Padrón captured in just 30 minutes the night of Dec. 13 to 14 at the Teide Observatory of the IAC. In the image, the OGS telescope and the Teide volcano. Credit: D. Padrón (sky-live.tv)
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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) via the sky-live.tv channel, with the collaboration with the Energy Efficiency Labs (EELabs) project, of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC).

During the past decade the Geminids have always bid farewell to the year by producing over 100 meteors per hour (Zenith Hourly Rate, ZHR. In 2020 produce over 130 meteors/hour) 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 7th and the 17th December. The maximum is expected at 07:00 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.

Remnants of the asteroid (3200) Phaethon

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 (3200) Phaethon, 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 (3200) Phaethon 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) Phaethon, 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 (3200) Phaethon 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-Ricart (IAC).

Live from the Teide Observatory

Among the outreach initiatives of the European project EELabs (eelabs.eu) the sky-live.tv channel will broadcast the meteor shower live from the Teide Observatory (IAC, Tenerife, Canary Islands). The date will be next Monday, 13th December at 23:30 UT-local time /00:30 CET

Link: https://sky-live.tv/

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).

Audiovisual material

High resolution images and videos Geminidshttps://flic.kr/s/aHsmKwTM67

Brilliant Geminid 2016: https://flic.kr/p/Yxt6y2

High resolution meteor showers: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjH2BFa4

Travel in a comet: https://youtu.be/iCoqxLjMmmU

Simulation orbit Geminids: https://www.meteorshowers.org/view/Geminids

Activity of the Geminids 2020: https://www.imo.net/members/imo_live_shower?shower=GEM&year=2020

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EELabs

EELabs (eelabs.eu) is a project financed by the INTERREG V-A MAC 2014-2020 Programme, co-financed by the FEDER (European Regional Development Fund) of the European Union, under contract number MAC2/4.6d/238. Five centres in Macaronesia work in EELabs (IAC, ITER, UPGC, SPEA-Azores, SPEA-Madeira).

Miquel
Serra Ricart
STARS4ALL Project
STARS4ALL- A Collective Awareness Platform for Promoting Dark Skies in Europe

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