There's A Supermoon Tuesday That Will Ruin Your Chances Of Seeing A Meteor Shower
Once a month, it seems, we get a really cool night sky phenomena that grabs a hold of our collective attention for the week leading up to it. Supermoon! Meteor shower! But what if, hear me out, we have both on the same night?
That's what's going down on Tuesday night—but unfortunately, it'll lead to suboptimal conditions. Tonight, the Earth also passes through the Geminid meteor shower, an unusual shower in that it's the tail of an asteroid instead of a comet. However, tonight's shower coincides with one of those pesky supermoons.
Another supermoon? This year closes out with three supermoons, which is a full moon when the Moon's orbit brings it closest to the Earth, thus making it 14% larger and 30% brighter (last month's superbeavermoon was the biggest in decades).
As any veteran of night sky-watching knows, you'll want to minimize the amount of light pollution in order to get the best views of meteors as they streak across the sky. However, the supermoon will cause so much light pollution that not even a Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer is going to bother tonight. "Unless someone is patient and really committed, then tonight wouldn't be an ideal time to watch meteors," JPL astronomer Stephen J. Edberg told LAist.
"Two things: the moon is bright, and if you're in town and it's hazy that light gets scattered all over the sky," Edberg explained. "[Second], the Geminids tend to not have a lot of bright, 'gee-whiz!' metoers. In fact I've only had one 'gee-whiz!' Geminid in a lot of years of observing." Edberg explained that the Geminids tend to be small particles the size of sand grains, leading to their diminuitive appearance.
If you do want to put in the effort to catch some Geminids, Edberg recommends going to higher elevations or out into the desert. According to NASA's Watch the Skies blog, the Geminids should be visible starting at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, and will peak at 2 a.m., Wednesday morning. Just lie on your back and stare into the night sky and wait. However, the suboptimal light conditions coupled with the cold December night might make you want to opt to stay home and watch Netflix.
If you do have the craving to catch some meteors, Edberg suggests waiting until the Ursids, which arrive on the night of December 22. "That one you can begin any time of night because they come from the area of the Little Dipper," meaning you don't have to wait for that part of the night sky to rise later on he explains. However, they will peak during the pre-dawn hours.
If you're willing to wait longer, the Lyrids in April "should be pretty good," especially since a far-less-bright crescent moon will be up in the sky. And there's always next year's Geminids, which coincide with a fat waning crescent, meaning the moon won't rise until the early hours of the dawn.