A tech geek's guide to the 2011 Geminid meteor shower
If you forgot to check the skies Tuesday night for the Geminid meteor shower, do not panic. Meteor experts say the show will continue Wednesday night as well.
That's right, stargazers: You still have a fighting chance to see some shooting stars before the end of 2011.
You'll be most likely to see meteors from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. no matter where you are in the country. Unfortunately, the moon will be quite bright for most of that time, but we've seen reports that some of the meteors streaking across the sky have been as bright as Venus, and the moonlight won't be able to block that out.
According to a statement from NASA, stargazers can expect to see about 40 meteors an hour.
For those who want to do more than just watch shooting stars, NASA has developed a Meteor Counter app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch that allows star watchers of all experience levels to record the number of meteors they've seen, and report that information, as well as the time, location and brightness of the meteors, to NASA. You can even record an accompanying audio track with comments on a meteor's trajectory, for instance.
NASA said it will use the information collected by amateur scientists to discover new meteor showers, pinpoint come-debris streams and map the distribution of asteroids around the Earth's orbit. Perhaps more importantly, it will encourage people to take meteor watching seriously. The app will also include a news feed about the night sky and will alert users to upcoming meteor showers.
Another option for enjoying the meteor shower: Listening to it. Space Weather Radio has a neat function that allows listeners to hear a ghostly "ping" whenever a meteor passes overhead. The sound is a side product of the Air Force Space Surveillance Radar that transmits a 216.98 MHz signal into the heavens 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Objects passing overhead -- satellites, spacecraft, meteors -- reflect the signal back to Earth. That's what you're hearing.
And if none of this appeals to you, check out this amazing video of the Geminid meteor shower, shot in Joshua Tree this week.
-- Deborah Netburn
Video: Sciencecasts: Tracking Meteors