Friday, December 14, 2012

Gem(inid) of the Day

It's that time of the year again. When holiday writers struggling for headlines proclaim "The Geminid meteor shower is on, prepare for a fantastic view in the night skies!", along with assorted photos of  what appear to be almost fireworks-like displays of meteors bursting from the constellation Gemini into the skies surrounding.

Let me tell you a dirty little secret. It means little to the general population and much more to the astronomers who study these phenomena. The actual showers never look as spectacularly shower like as the visualizations that accompany these headlines might suggest.

I remember about 20 years back, when I went Leonid hunting with my husband and another friend to some of the darkest skies around Pittsburgh- the Hartwood acres  park.  We waited and shivered there for a couple of hours and were rewarded with the occasional cry of 'Ooh, there goes a meteor" from one or the other (never all at the same time) maybe once every 10 minutes or so. That, my friend, constitutes a 'fantastic view' of the meteor shower, in astronomic terms.

Of late, as the days darken early and the sun takes its own sweet time rising, my morning walks have been moonlit and starlit. How nice it would be if I could catch a meteor in the morning, I thought. So I kept a watchful eye out in the media for the increase in numbers of exclamation points regarding the Geminids, and saw them ( the exclamation points, not the meteors) peak yesterday.

So off I went this morning, determined to keep my eyes glued to the western sky, focused fiercely on Castor and Pollux, the twin stars of Gemini, that give the showers their name. Unlike the photo that is up ( from, staring at the Twins did nothing for me.

It's all my poor luck, I muttered and  turned eastward, walking back to  my home. And there, in the blink of an eye, a meteor shot across to the northern sky, vanishing somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Dipper.

And that's my Gem(inid) of the Day!


Amit said...


I can relate. I, too, went with some friends (in the middle of cold December) to some secluded spot in the woods in western MA, shivering and teeth chattering, expecting a spectacular show, and finding maybe a couple of lights streaking by in the sky. That was the first and last time I went looking for Geminid meteor showers.

Sujatha said...

I think the real spectacle is that of cold shivering muffled up characters gazing skywards, not the Geminids (or Perseids, or Leonids). It would make for a marvellous rumination, a la 'Waiting for Godot', at the very least.And the funniest part of it is that every year a new set of 'bakras' fall for all the meteor shower 'bakwas'!