Walter Mencken 9:21 p.m., Oct. 20
Eyes on the Sky: Jupiter and the Geminid Meteor Shower
Jupiter, the "king" of the planets, appears high in the southern sky after sunset. Note its creamy yellow-white color and unblinking brightness. Aim a small telescope at Jupiter anytime during the next few weeks to see the cloud-belt-banded planet flanked by its four Galilean satellites, or moons, which were discovered by Galileo in 1609, just over four centuries ago. Can't see all four moons? That's possible. All you need to do is wait — one or more of the moons could be in transit across the planet Jupiter, or hidden behind the planet, or hidden in the planet's shadow.
The Geminid Meteor Shower, one of the year's two most regularly active showers, peaks on the night/morning of December 13-14 (Monday night through Tuesday morning). The moon, near first-quarter phase this year, will set by around midnight and thus not interfere with meteor observations during the prime hours, which are 12 midnight through 2 a.m. You must be far from city lights to see the meteors effectively. The first Geminid meteors become visible around 6:30 p.m., and viewing improves through the middle of the night, when 100 or more meteors per hour can be spotted by any observer lying flat and taking in the whole sky. The greatest challenge associated with viewing the Geminid shower is the very low outside temperatures associated with both the time of year and the late hour.
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