At 10 p.m. tonight, go outside, look up

Meteors! Again?

Yes. Tonight!

Hard on the galactic debris trail of the recent (awe inspiring, I might add) Leonid meteor shower, the heavens again are set to delight stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere.

This latest celestial fireworks display can be seen anytime after 10 pm Eastern time. The constellation Gemini is where the action starts. Look east-southeast. It will be well above the horizon (about 45 degrees). Castor and Pollux, the twins, are the two major stars in Gemini. An easier signpost is the hunter, Orion. Look for his belt, the three stars lined up in a row. Then look left on a slight angle upward for a single bright star, Betelgeuse (it's a red giant), left again for the bright object (not a star) Jupiter, and then left again for the twins.

The waning crescent moon will make for good, dark sky observing conditions. Meteors will appear in any part of the sky, but their trails will most often point back toward the radiant (or entry point into Earth's atmosphere) near Gemini.

On any night, at any location, a few meteors can be seen each hour. Astronomers call these sporadic meteors, or simply sporadics. The Geminids are a full-blown meteor shower. The action should start about 8 p.m. The most optimistic prediction calls for as many 200 per hour between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. (a reasonable hour, unlike the 4-5:30 a.m. peak for the Leonids).

Reminder: It is the debris left behind by the comets, most no larger than a grain of sand, that create the spectacular light show as they enter the earth's atmosphere.

Dress warmly, bring a reclining chair, or spread a thick blanket over a flat spot on the ground, or the hood (or roof, for the more adventurous) of a car.


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