The clouds finally lifted Monday evening and Geminid meteors began to visibly soar through the sky. Even though the peak was Sunday night, there were still plenty of spectacular bursts to be observed last night on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Meteors will still be visible until December 17th so take advantage of the clear skies tonight, and try to catch a glimpse of mother nature’s holiday lights!
Each year Earth passes through the debris cloud of Asteroid 3200 Phaethon around this time and that produces an annual spectacle known as the Geminid Meteor Shower. Traditionally the Geminid’s are some the most vibrant meteors and can sometimes reach rates of 120 meteors per hour. The peak of this shower is set to occur late Sunday night into Monday morning, but viewing around WNC could be limited by cloud cover and scattered showers. That being said, tonight should provide the best chance at clear skies over the next 3 days, so anyone wanting to see a meteor should venture out tonight.
If you are wondering where to drive for best viewing in WNC, just venture up to the Blue Ridge Parkway after dark for a drive and look east. Tonight the show won’t be as vibrant, but the chance of cloud cover is less, so seeing a meteor is much more likely. Last year I ventured up to Beacon Heights near Grandfather Mountain for the spectacle and grabbed a few shots. This area is great to see the event, since you can easily look to the east and the light pollution is minimal. Other places around WNC like Wayah Bald in Franklin, NC (1.5 hr drive from AVL) and Max Patch (Haywood Co.) provide incredible views to see meteors. Be careful about heading up towards Craggy Garden or Mt. Pisgah because the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed around those two spots, but it is still open around the Asheville area in between. If you live in Hendersonville or on the NC/SC line, a great viewing spot can be found if you head down Highway 276 to the Ceasar’s Head Escarpment. Here you will find a phenomenal view. For people living in the Sylva, Cashiers, or Highlands area, Panthertown Valley will most certainly provide an incredible spot for viewing.
Meteors from the Geminid burn various colors as they enter Earth’s atmosphere and the chart below provides a bit of insight into which elements burn what color. The Gemini’s are known for their vibrant display of color and this year should be no different, provided that you can see them. The moon will also not interfere with viewing efforts this year since just last night we had a new moon. If we didn’t have an approaching front, this year would be almost perfect for viewing and photographing meteors.
The key to photographing a Geminid meteor is to have the right equipment.
What do you need?
– DSLR Camera
– Intervalometer (recommended)
– Sturdy Tripod
– Dark Skies
First and foremost, one who wishes to catch a meteor streaking across the lens needs the right equipment. Any DSLR camera in which you can adjust the iso will work. You will also need a study tripod and I would recommend you pick up an intervalometer if your camera doesn’t have one built in. Set your camera up looking east towards the constellation Gemini and set the iso to 1600 or 3200. next you want to put your f/stop as low as possible. This will vary with different lens, but a lower f/stop will pick up more stars and faint meteors. After that is set, place your shutter speed on 30 seconds so that you can take 30 second exposures. Now you can either stand next the camera and click shots one after another waiting for a meteor to encounter the atmosphere, or you can set the intervalometer to 35 seconds so that the camera clicks the shutter itself every 35 seconds. This would allow you to go back and sit in the car where it is much warmer. After 2-3 hours of taking shots, go back and flip through the images to see what you captured. If you leave the camera in place, you can also use a program like Panolapse to produce a time-lapse of the event, but I will save those instructions for another article. Good luck to anyone venturing out to enjoy natures holiday special, have a blast and show us what you catch!