The largest meteor shower of the year, the Geminids, is now visible in Alabama nightly. The showers will peak overnight on Wednesday to Thursday morning. About 150 visible meteors per hour are expected.

Weather permitting, the meteors are expected to be easily visible in Alabama due to the New Moon not being visible in the sky. This creates greater darkness and a contrast to the meteors. The Geminids peak occurring during a New Moon provides the optimum opportunity for viewing.

This meteor stream gets its name because the meteors appear to radiate near the Gemini constellation.

In Alabama, the ideal time to start looking will be after 7:30 p.m. CT on the evening of Wednesday (about two hours after the radiant rises above the northeastern horizon). The radiant will reach its highest in the sky around 2 to 3 a.m. After about 6 a.m. Thursday, the first wisps before dawn will begin to interfere with visibility.

Optimum viewing conditions would be when the weather cooperates by being clear with no clouds or hazes and the radiant is high in the sky.

Tips for Alabama skywatchers:

  • Go to a place far from any light sources or urban light pollution that has a clear view of a vast expanse of the sky. Some meteors are faint, so you will tend to see more from your peripheral vision (the "corner of your eye," which is why you need to view a large part of the sky).

  • Be sure to give your eyes plenty of time to adapt to the dark, ideally 35 minutes or more. The better your eyes are adjusted to the dark, the more chance you will have of seeing the meteors. Even a short exposure to light (from passing car headlights or checking your cell phone) will start the adjustment time over.

     

  • By taking these steps, you will not need special equipment, such as binoculars or telescopes, to view the Geminid meteors. There is no need for protection for your eyes.

The Geminid meteors are caused by debris that enters the Earth's atmosphere at 78,000 miles per hour. The Geminids are different from other meteors because they emanate from asteroids rather than comets.

Online viewing of the 2023 Geminids coordinated by an astronomical team will be available free of charge at Virtual Telescope's WebTV - The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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