SUPERMOON MAGIC and the GIMINID METEOR SHOWER means it’s time to get out and shoot the moon and the Giminids!
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The month of December in 2016 is a magical month in astronomy and for photographers. Moon magic occurs again on December 14, 2016 at 00:05 UTC. This is not just any moon magic, but SUPERMOON MAGIC—the third and final time in 2016—by which the full moon comes the closest to our planet Earth (as measured from the center of each). November 14th was technically the closest, or near-perigee (perigee means the point at which a heavenly body, such as moon or satellite, orbits closest to earth) full moon, when it was 224,641 miles/361,524 kilometers from Earth. The first near-perigee full moon occurred on October 16, 2016. Three new moons also orbited closely to earth in 2016 and although we could not see them because they “traveled” across our sky during the day, these super new moons were also in near-perigee in 2016.
This month also brings the annual meteor show, the Geminid Meteor Shower, whose peak performance lights up the night sky on the same day as the December 14th supermoon peak. Already in play since the 4th of December, the Geminid Meteor Shower will be seen around the world through the 16th. Although the supermoon will trump the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower, in that the moon’s brightness will make it impossible to see many of the Geminids on that particular night, star-gazers and photographers will still have time to enjoy these great December astrological events.
Does the Geminid originate from the constellation Gemini? Geminid is best observed by finding Gemini in a dark night sky and lying down to gaze the event with the naked eye, taking in as much as the sky as possible. Approximately 120 meteors per hour will “shoot” across the sky at 22 miles/35 kilometers per second! Radiating from the constellation of Gemini and its bright star, the six-cluster Castor, the Geminid is a meteor stream of dust fragments that originates from its parent asteroid, the 3.1 mile/5 km diameter asteroid rock named (3200) Phaetheon; (3200) Phaetheon is an asteroid that travels in an elliptical orbit around the sun. In December the Earth passes through its trail of dust—the Geminid—and offers us a bright show that begins fairly early in the evening, 9 to 10 pm, and visibly lasts until dawn the next morning¹. Even though the Geminids can be very bright, they will not become meteorites and fly through our atmosphere to crash into Earth. They are, after all, merely particles of dust that burn brightly when they enter into our atmosphere and then disappear. The next closest near-perigee full moon, or supermoon, that photographers will be able to photograph—a supermoon that is as close to the Earth as the November 14, 2016 supermoon had been—will occur on November 25, 2034. Photographers won’t have to wait as long for another show of Geminids, as our planet will pass through the trail of (3200) Phaetheon’s dust particles again in December 2017: the Geminid Meteor Shower.
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1. “Meteors & Meteorites: Geminids.” NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. <http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/meteors/geminids>.