Photo © Ben Jacobi
You’ll probably never forget the first time you saw a “shooting star” or a “falling star” and made a wish. These phenomena are actually meteors, caused by streams of cosmic debris entering the upper atmosphere at high speeds, tens of thousands of miles per hour. The resulting friction ignites the meteors with intense brightness.
Meteor showers are usually named after the constellation that coincides with their region of the sky, a spot known as the radiant. Our December meteor showers, the Geminids, are named for the constellation of Gemini, the twins. Often bright and intensely colored, Geminids provide the strongest meteor showers of the year; this year, look for a peak around Dec. 13–14.
December skies offer some of the best opportunities to gaze deeply into the nighttime firmament. Meteor showers are best watched after midnight when the moon is not too bright or full.
Find a “dark sky” park or community for optimum viewing if your own backyard sky view is too illuminated by city lights. If you can see every star of the Little Dipper, the sky should be dark enough for meteor watching. Sometimes the moon doesn’t cooperate and hinders visibility with its luminosity.
What else can you discover in the black velvet of December skies? Look for the constellation Orion, the hunter. Many cultures have stories about the box-shaped group with a belt of three stars, depicting Orion as a hero chasing beasts, sometimes with his dog, Canis Major, containing the star Sirius. In Orion’s “skirt” you can see (with binoculars or telescope) the Orion Nebula, a star nursery with young stars and brown dwarfs.
December stargazing events in Texas state parks include star parties atand state parks on Dec. 14. Another event that evening is Gems of the Universe at ; take a walk around during Red Light Stargazing on Dec. 28.