If you have gone camping to a location with no lights and if you have stared at the sky, you might have seen shooting stars. Shooting stars are objects in the sky that appear out of nowhere, move very fast in the sky and then disappear… The scientific name for these is meteors. Meteors are sand grain sized particles in space which get attracted by the earth’s gravitational force, enter the atmosphere and burn due to friction with air…
On certain nights, you can see tens or even hundreds of meteors. These are called meteor showers. Although the meteors can be seen all around the sky, if you trace back the direction of the meteors, they would seem to originate from a point in the sky. The meteor showers are named based on these origin points.
The best meteor showers are Perseids and Geminids. Perseids occur in Aug which is the peak rainy season in India. But Geminid meteor showers occur in December giving us a very good chance to see the meteors in hundreds. On a particular Geminid night in 2011, I saw over 300 meteors. Every other minute, we would see a meteor. Some of them would burn in the sky for over 5 seconds. Some of them would leave smoke trails behind. Some of them would appear distinctly yellow or green. If for every shooting star, you got one wish, you would run out of wishes in no time!
Geminids, as the name suggests, appear to originate from the constellation of Gemini. The origin point is called the radiant. The Geminids are caused by an object called 3200 Phaethon, which leaves behind a debris of small particles as it moves around the sun. When the earth mives through this trail of particles, they get attracted by earth’s gravity, accelerate in earth’s atmosphere and disintegrate at the height of about 38km in the atmosphere.
This year, the Geminids can be seen on Dec13th and Dec 14th nights. To see the meteor showers, you need to be in a dark location like a village away from city light, sit on an easy chair or sleep on the ground and enjoy the show. Don’t forget to carry warm clothing and your favorite snack. If you want to photograph Geminids, get the widest and fastest lens you have, point the camera at the sky and click a lot of long exposures. If you are lucky, the meteors will register in some of the photographs.
The image below was captured in 2011 with a canon 450D and tokina 11-16 lens. I clicked about 200 long exposure images. Out of them, 20 images had registered meteors. I stacked all 20 of them and I got this image. Observe that all the meteors (except one) look like they are radiating from a single point close to the stars Castor and Pollux close the bottom center of the image.