The 2020 Gemini meteor shower has officially passed its best moment, but an impressive display is still waiting for those sky observers who risk Monday evening and early Tuesday morning.
The official top of the Gemini came on Sunday evening into early Monday, and it definitely delivered a lot of falling stars and some bright, slow fireballs from my cold dark sky in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico. But ideal new moon conditions last Monday evening and Tuesday morning, and there still has to be a lot of meteor activity.
Lameteor rain pays close attention, as it is active on hot summer nights in the Northern Hemisphere, but the Geminis are actually the strongest most years.
Even better, this is one of the few big meteor showers that doesn’t require you to wake up well before dawn to catch the best part. According to the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the Gemini give “good performance before midnight, because the constellation of Gemini is well located as of 22:00”.
This simply means that the celestial region from which the meteors will appear to emerge is placed high in the sky early in the night. It will be highest around 2pm local time, but going out before midnight still gives you a good chance to see a lot. Also, those hours are the best time to see bright, slow “Earth Shepherds” along the horizon.
“I like to orient myself south and have the radio drift west through my field of view. This also allows me to monitor the tiny rains that are active in the same region of the sky,” says Robert Lunsford of AMS.
Bottom line: There’s no real bad time to look for Geminids. You don’t either need look at Gemini to spot Gemini. Meteors can appear almost anywhere in the night sky, but will usually move for of Gemini.
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If you can manage that, you just need to dress properly, lie down, let your eyes adjust, relax and look. The Gemini can range from faint, transient “falling stars” to bright, intensely colored stripes and perhaps even a fireball here and there. You will have a better chance of spotting meteors in the Northern Hemisphere, but the Gemini are also visible south of the equator, just later at night and less so.
We get meteor showers as the Earth drifts through clouds of debris, typically left behind by visiting comets. In the case of the Gemini, the debris comes from the so-called “rock comet”, which is thought to be a possibly extinct comet that wanders around the inner solar system.