Meteor Observing at Armagh Observatory

Geminid Meteors
Geminid Meteors
Geminid Meteors

The above images (not to scale)
show an artist's impression of the Earth
passing through the dust trail of the
Geminid parent body (3200) Phaethon;
meteors impacting the Earth's upper
atmosphere; and the appearance of bright
meteors against the dark night sky.

The Armagh Observatory is opening its doors on Monday 13th December for an evening of meteor observing to capture the Geminid meteor shower. If you've never seen a meteor or shooting star, this is the perfect opportunity to learn what they are and, if it is clear, to see some of these celestial fireworks for yourself.

The Geminid meteors are well known as the best and last of the major meteor showers of the year. They may be seen at any time during the period 7-17 December, appearing to come from a point in the sky known as the radiant, located near the two bright stars called the "twins", Castor and Pollux, in the constellation of Gemini. The number of meteors that may be observed around the 13/14 December, the time of the peak of the Geminid shower, can range up to perhaps 120 per hour, if seen on a clear, moonless night from a really dark sky with no light pollution. This year, we can expect perhaps up to 30 an hour from a site such as the Armagh Observatory.

The Geminid radiant will be moderately high in the east in the late evening of the 13th December. Geminid meteors travel at average meteor speeds, are moderately bright, yellowish with some leaving glowing, persistent trails behind. The Geminid shower is notable also for providing occasional exceptionally bright meteors, called 'fireballs'. Most meteors originate from comets, but in 1983 an unusual asteroid called (3200) Phaethon was discovered following the same orbit as the Geminids, and was identified as the parent body of the meteors and the first meteoroid stream to be found to come from an asteroid.

The open evening will begin at 8.00pm at the Armagh Observatory. If it is clear, there will be a short introduction to the sky and the stars and planets, and instruction on how best to observe meteors. If it is cloudy there will be short talks on astronomy and an opportunity to meet the astronomers and find answers to questions about meteors or any other aspect of astronomy. Anyone wishing to join this event is requested to telephone or send an e-mail to Mrs Aileen McKee at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh; Tel: 028-3752-2928; e-mail: ambnat signarm.ac.uk, and to be at the Observatory shortly before 8.00pm.

For meteor observing, the main rules are always the same: find a place as far as possible from light pollution or the interfering light of the moon; wrap up well against the freezing cold; and make yourself comfortable, ready to catch the meteors when they appear.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: John McFarland or Tugca Satir at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG; Tel: 028-3752-2928; jmfat signarm.ac.uk; and htssat sign@arm.ac.uk.

Last Revised: 2010 December 6th