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Front Row Seat

Why you have to stay up late to see a meteor shower

Meteor shower diagram

The diagram shows the direction of Earth’s orbit around the sun, the direction of Earth’s rotation, and your position in the night time zone.

The annual Geminid meteor shower peaks tomorrow night (December 13, 2012) between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.. That’s between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time, everywhere on the planet. Why so late? Well that’s because between midnight and 2 a.m. is when the part of the earth you are on is plowing head on into the meteors.

As you can see in the diagram, the Earth both orbits the sun in a counter clockwise direction, and rotates in a counter clockwise direction. When the part of the Earth you are on has past midnight, you are sitting in the front seat of our orbital path around the sun. It’s similar to rounding the top while riding a ferris wheel.

As it so happens, the moon is at its new phase in the sky just now. This means it’s sitting between us and the sun, and will be completely out of sight. Perfect dark sky conditions for pulling up a lawn chair and a hot toddy for a great light show. And of course Phil Plait’s tips on meteor shower watching are tried and true.