December 16 – 3200 Phaethon, Geminids and Beethoven   Leave a comment

Sky & Telescope diagram from 11/29/17, Bob King S&T blog

December’s not just about the holidays. There’s also a lot of nifty stuff happening in the nighttime skies now. For starters, did you know that there’s a ginormous asteroid headed our way? It’s name is 3200 Phaethon and it’s coming pretty darn close to the Earth – only 6,407,618 miles (or, to put it in perspective, 27 times the distance between the Earth and Moon). And here’s the cool thing about 3200 Phaethon: it’ll be moving so fast you’ll be able to track it! It’s going to be its closest on December 16 and if you have a 3″ telescope, you’ll able to make it out, as it will reach magnitude 10.7. It’ll pass through Perseus on December 12-14, then grow closest on the 16 as it whizzes through Andromeda, then on the 17-19 pass through the Great Square/Pegasus, and eventually heading out of view through Aquarius and Capricorn.

For an excellent article regarding 3200 Phaethon, please read Sky & Telescope’s article by Bob King.

If you do glimpse through a telescope, you might notice that it’s kind of dim as it nears closest to the Earth. That’s because it’s reflecting the sun and its full phase will be on December 12, when it’s not quite as close, and a waning gibbous as it grows nearer.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Go outside after 21:00 UTC/9:00 pm EST and glance toward Gemini for a real treat…the Geminids!

From “The Stars,” H.A. Rey, pp. 44, 97

 

Okay, I admit the above two pictures aren’t that great (I used my iPhone to take a picture of the above pages), but they’ll give you an idea of what and where to look around 9:00 pm. Gemini is a pretty easy constellation to find. If you know what Orion looks like, you can see he’s using his club to point right at them, as if he’s showing you where they are. They’ll be rising almost in the center of the sky, a bit to the south.

3200 Phaethon happens to be the father of the Geminids. As it passes closer to the sun, it kicks off detritus that enables the Geminids to occur (again, please read S&T article for more information – you won’t regret it).

So here’s what you do in order to get the best viewing experience for the Geminids. Try to find an open space that’s relatively dark, away from too much light. Pick out Gemini and you will see two bright stars for their heads – Pollux is the brightest and Castor is dimmer. Near Casto is the radiant, or point of origin for the meteor shower. From there, all the meteors will travel outward. Think of the radiant as the center of a daisy and the petals as the outward-flying meteors.

For your reference, here’s an image from Sky & Telescope:

What also makes this the ideal year for viewing the Geminids is the Moon will be a waning crescent, so its light will not interfere with anyone’s enjoyment. Even when it rises in the early morning hours, it’ll remain more of a passive bystander than a pest, leaving everyone with immense satisfaction instead of disappointment.

So what’s all this got to do with Beethoven?

Besides being one of the greatest composers ever to have lived, he was born on December 16, 1770 (or so it’s believed; another story for another time). His music was included on the Voyager golden disk that was sent out into space in 1977. In case you’re wondering what those works are: “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67: I. Allegro Con Brio,” played by the Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer and “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Opus 130: V. Cavatina,” played by the Budapest String Quartet.

As you venture out to gaze at the nighttime sky to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s amazements, why not take along a recording of these works and listen as streaks of light flash past, and marvel at the wonder of it all.

Now that’s what I call a celebration!

 

 

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