I took this picture in September of this year when Cygnus was
nearly overhead. Cygnus the swan, also known as the Northern Cross, is low in
the West this time of year. I added the constellation lines as a visual aid.
The exposure time for this picture was 24 minutes with a 35mm
lens. The long exposure reveals faint magenta colored nebulae and countless
stars of the Milky Way that reside in this part of the sky.
A random meteor trail from a sand grain sized piece of space
debris burned up as it hit the Earth’s atmosphere at 20+ miles per second and
was recorded as a streak of light in the left side of the picture. On average,
about 100 tons of space debris burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere each day. Most
go unseen. The meteors we do see look like streaks of light. They are sometimes
incorrectly called falling stars. In truth meteors are almost always quite
small. Mostly dust and sand grain sized pieces that vaporize 40 to 80 miles up
in our atmosphere.
If the Earth passes through a debris trail left by a comet the
result is a meteor shower. The Geminid meteor shower will occur Friday morning December 14, with
the most meteors occurring from 1AM to 3 AM.
If you want to brave the cold to see meteors,
find a dark location away from lights with an unobstructed sky. A baseball
field would be a good choice. Dress like an Eskimo and lie back on a lawn chair
recliner. Pointing your feet East will help with proper orientation, but it is
not critical. Telescope or binoculars are not
needed as you will need to monitor the entire sky. The meteors will
radiate from the constellation Gemini, but you don’t need to find Gemini to see
them, meteors will be seen everywhere in the sky. Look straight up. Meteors take a fraction of
a second to burn up so stay alert and pay attention or you’ll miss out. You may
see 5 to 50 meteors per hour near the 2AM peak Friday morning. Since our area
has many lights the fainter meteors will be lost in light pollution. So expect
to see fewer meteors rather than more. Use a sleeping bag to keep warm and be patient. Good luck.