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Geminid meteor shower life hacks (or: how to have the best view of the meteor shower)

Here are some life hacks we have learned in over two decades of observing meteor showers. Use these and you will be fine and have a great time observing the Geminids!

General stuff

  • Get away from light pollution: really, get as far away from light pollution as possible. Bright skies hide many meteors. While you might see 80 meteors per hour under dark rural skies, brighter suburban skies may cut the number to 30 meteors per hour. In urban skies you may be lucky to get 15 Geminids per hour. If you can get to a more remote and higher location in the mountains, you will perhaps see even more meteors. Light pollution goes far: it is not enough that you get from direct sight of urban lights, get as far away from large urban centers as possible.
  • You only need your eyes: no fancy binoculars or telescopes are needed. In fact, you will see far fewer meteors with any type of optical instrument due to its limited field of view. Just gaze at the sky and it will not be long before you spot your first meteor.
  • Give your eyes a chance and time to adapt to darkness: your eyes will need some time to adapt to darkness. You will likely have been flashed by numerous car headlights on the way to your observing spot, and you will likely check your phone once you get there and there will be lights in your car when you get your gear out and get dressed. Then give your eyes time to adapt to darkness. You will see a rapid and dramatic improvement in how many stars you see in the sky in the first 10 to 15 minutes. It takes the eyes about an hour to get fully adapted to darkness – that is when your eyes will be most effective at spotting meteors. So keep your phone away, do not look at the super bright screen and ruin your (and everyone else’s) dark adaptation. Even at the dimmest setting, it will be much, much too bright.
  • Tell someone where you are going: going out in winter conditions is never a joke. Tell your friends, parents or significant other where you are going. Just in case.

How to remain warm and cozy in the winter cold

  • Grab a chair: you can observe standing up, but your neck will suffer. A lot. You will want to have a good view of as much sky as possible. Grab a lawn chair or some kind of reclining chair.
  • Do not get cold: dress warm. Take the amount of clothes you think you need and then take 2x or 3x more. You will not be moving a lot while you observe meteors and you can get cold quickly. Particularly your extremities: fingers and toes cool down rapidly, so take particular care of them. You can wrap yourself in a warm blanket or a good sleeping bag. But beware: getting from under the blanket or out of the sleeping bag is a miserably cold experience. A warm drink is a good idea, but don’t overdo it: if you drink too much of it your body will actually begin to lose more heat and you will eventually wind up even colder than before. And you will need to take a leak, which in the amount of clothes you will be in and at the low temperatures is also not a particularly comfortable experience. Don’t drink alcohol: it will get you cold. And it will mess up your ability to see. Which is why you are there in the first place. Even in small amounts alcohol will diminish your ability to see meteors.
  • Don’t get hungry: you get hungry -> you get cold. As simple as that. Bring a snack, cookies, or a complete dinner. Just don’t get hungry.
  • It is way more fun in good company: bring a friend. Or friends. It is way more fun observing the show in company. Do give them fair warning of low temperatures though! You want to remain friends.
  • Company is good: those sounds little night time critters make will sound a lot less scary if you have company. When you are alone even a tiny mouse sounds like a bear.

There is stuff to do!

Some of you will perhaps want to keep a record of what you have seen. Here are a few ideas:

  • Record meteors: you can record the meteors you see. You will have an interesting record of your observation, and if you do it next year you can compare the shows. You can actually gather scientifically useful observational data. The International Meteor Organization gathers visual observations from observers around the world and analyzes them to determine the activity curve of a meteor shower. They do a spectacular job and it is fun being part of the global community of meteor observers. You will need to observe and record data using their visual observing method though. In addition to the number of meteors, you will have to record the meteor shower to which they belong and the sky conditions. It is not difficult and if you know your way around the sky at least a bit (know some constellations) you will quickly master it.
  • Got a camera? Photograph meteors: it is a bit like fishing, but way more fun. Grab a camera and photograph meteors – here is how. With a bit of luck, you will get a great photo that will stay with you for years.

We hope these life hacks will make your Geminid observations even more fun. Good luck with the weather and let us know how your Geminid observations went! If you wish to get more information about the Geminid meteor shower, take a look at the article below:

Meteor photography – how to photograph a meteor shower