GET set for the Geminid meteor shower, a shooting star spectacular for the end of the year.

Many people look out for the annual Perseid meteor, or shooting star shower, which occurs every August.

It is, however, not the most spectacular meteor shower. The Geminids hold that title and they can be seen this month. The Geminids reach maximum on the night of December 13/14 when up to 120 meteors per hour can be seen.

Meteors are connected with comets. As a comet, which is essentially a dirty snowball, travels around the Sun, leaving a trail of dust behind it.

If the Earth happens to pass through such a trail we see a meteor shower. The Earth passes through many such streams each year. Some of the meteor showers are spectacular; others less so, but they are all predictable.

The Geminids are so called because the meteors all seem to come from the constellation of Gemini the Twins and are special because they are associated not with a comet but with an asteroid called Phaethon.

The pieces of dust produced by asteroids are slightly larger than those produced by comets and because of this they travel through the Earth’s atmosphere more slowly, making them much brighter than the usual meteors.

The Geminids travel at about 20 miles a second compared to most other meteors, which travel at around 40 miles per second. The dust particles burn up due to friction in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Unlike last year when the Moon was nearly full, making it difficult to see the Geminids, this year the Moon will be at the new phase and the sky will be very dark, so if there are no clouds we should be in for a spectacular event.

If you see a meteor or shooting star in the sky, you know what you have to do: make a wish.

This month all the main signposts in the night sky are on view: the Plough; Orion; Cassiopeia and the Square of Pegasus.

The Plough can be found in the North East, standing on its handle with the pointers (the two stars furthest from the handle) pointing to the North Star.

Orion is not yet at its best but it dominates the south eastern part of the sky.

Capella, in the constellation of Auriga the Charioteer, has not yet arrived at the zenith but it is very high up.

With regards to the Summer Triangle of stars, only Deneb can be found, low in the west. The Square of Pegasus now can be found in the south west. The bright star Fomalhaut in Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, has now set.

The constellation of Perseus is now high in the sky, so this is a good time to find the star Algol which marks the eye of the Medusa slain by Perseus.

Medusa was the creature with hair made from snakes, and one look at it would turn the observer to stone.

The star names are Arabic and the word Algol means the ‘Winking Demon’. Algol is what is referred to as a variable star. Its light changes in brightness over a period of a few days, hence its name.

These light variations, which were first explained by the deaf astronomer John Goodricke who lived in York in the 1780s, are very regular and predictable.

It was Goodricke who suggested that there were two stars eclipsing each other. He was quite right, although it wasn’t until around 100 years after his death that astronomers were to prove his ideas correct.

While talking about events in the December sky people sometimes think about that most famous of all stars, The Star of Bethlehem.

Many people have wondered what it could have been. I have my own ideas about the star but I expect it will always remain a mystery.

The Planets in December: The two gas giants Jupiter and Saturn have graced our skies since spring time but are now getting very low in the south west.

They do however have a wonderful finale for us this month. During December the two planets will get closer and closer together in the sky until by the 21st they will appear so close together that it will look as if they are touching each other.

However if you look very carefully you will see that Saturn is just above Jupiter. The last time that Jupiter and Saturn appeared this close was in July 1623. This event is certainly worth looking for.

The two planets are not really close in space; rather, this is a line of sight event, as Saturn is around 730 million kilometres further away from us than Jupiter. You will have to be ready and waiting, because you will only have about 40 minutes after sunset on December 21 to see this wonderful sight before the planets set.

Mars, the bright orange/red looking ‘star’ is still very high in the sky in the south. Venus can still be seen in the morning sky as a bright white dot in the south east around two and a half hours before sunrise.

Mercury which was so spectacular last month is now so close to the Sun that it cannot be seen.

Meteor Showers: After the Geminids another meteor shower, the Ursids, peaks on the night of December 22/23when, usually, about ten meteors per hour can be seen.

The Ursids appear close to Christmas and with our focus on celebrations they are poorly observed.

The Ursids have been known to produce outbursts of large numbers of meteors in the past so it is worth watching out for them.

The Ursids appear to come from the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Small Bear. The North Star is actually the end star of the tail of the small bear.

Phases of the Moon for December: Last Quarter 8; New Moon 14; First Quarter 21; Full Moon 30.

The full moon in December is usually know as the Before Yule Moon. However, this year, full moon occurs after the start of the ancient feast of Yule, and therefore it is known as the Cold Moon, heralding the coming of winter and the colder weather.

The Winter Solstice:The winter solstice this year occurs on December 21 when the Sun lies at its lowest point in the sky. It is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. This is when winter officially begins in the northern hemisphere and summer begins in the southern hemisphere.

Solar Eclipse: There will be an eclipse of the Sun on December 14; but sadly we will not be able to witness this spectacular natural event from Britain as it will only be visible across the South Pacific Ocean, South America and South West Africa. The next total eclipse of the Sun visible from Britain will be in 2090.

Due to coronavirus, there will be no meetings of the Earby Astronomical Society until further notice.

I would like to wish all the readers of the Craven Herald a very merry and peaceful Christmas and a very Happy New Year.