Night Light of the North Coast: Geminid Meteors of December, 2017

Starry sky during the Geminid meteor shower, near the Airport at Kneeland, Humboldt, California. Light trail and partial silhouette made as David walked up the road with his flashlight and then stood still.

Starry sky during the Geminid meteor shower, near the Airport at Kneeland, Humboldt, California. Photo by David Wilson, December 13, 2017.

There is a lot that goes on outside of our planet that most of us never even consider. Oh, we know it’s big Out There, but we have a lot to worry about on our little speck, so we let everything out there take care of itself. There’s nothing much we can do about it, anyway, right? Earth is hurtling through space about the Sun, around and around, while the Sun and all of the planets are themselves heading toward who knows where on a cosmic journey most of which we’ll never see. There is so much that is so completely out of our control that sometimes all we can do is sit back and watch. But there is a lot to appreciate if we allow ourselves the time to observe.

Silhouettes of David and son with Geminid meteor.

Silhouettes of David and son with Geminid meteor.

Each December we are treated to the Geminid meteor shower, named for the constellation from which the meteors appear to radiate. While most meteor showers are caused by the tiny remnants of passing comets entering and burning up in our atmosphere, when we see the Geminids streaking across our sky we are looking at small particles of an asteroid. As Earth travels its path around the sun, it annually passes through theses regions of debris, causing “showers” of meteors that appear to radiate from a particular point in the sky. Every year in mid December we pass through the cloud of space dust that produces the Geminids. In 2018, it should peak on December 14.

In December, 2017, my son and I were rewarded with quite a show when we drove into the hills east of Eureka, California to watch the Geminids. But no matter how spectacular a meteor shower may be to watch, if I can’t bring any home with me then later on all I’ll have is stories; ask a fisherperson. So naturally I brought my camera to try to catch a few.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to play with light a little while out taking nighttime photographs. “Photography” is painting with light when you break it down, after all. In the Art world, Photography is unique, for a photograph is an image that was made directly with light. Sometimes we click the shutter and record the light that is already there, and sometimes we add our own.

The photographs here are long exposures, meaning the camera shutter was open for an extended period of 20-30 seconds. This allowed the sensor to gather a good deal more light than our eyes can, bringing out some stars that weren’t apparent to the naked eye, and the extended exposure time also made it more likely to capture a meteor or two in each image. And it gave me time to paint light onto the foreground. I experimented with different lighting over the course of a bunch of photographs, and my son and I played with our silhouettes. I caught meteors in a number different photos, and multiple meteors were recorded in some of the images.

To see previous entries of “Night Light of the North Coast,” click on my name above the article. If you’d like to keep abreast of my most current photography or peer into its past, you can follow me on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx . I update my website mindscapefx.com less frequently, but you can contact me there.

Starry sky with meteors during the Geminid meteor shower, near the Airport at Kneeland, Humboldt, California. Silhouette of David Wilson. Photo by David Wilson, December 13, 2017.Starry sky with meteors during the Geminid meteor shower, near the Airport at Kneeland, Humboldt, California. Silhouette of David Wilson. Photo by David Wilson, December 13, 2017.

Starry sky with meteors during the Geminid meteor shower, near the Airport at Kneeland, Humboldt, California. Silhouette of David Wilson. Photo by David Wilson, December 13, 2017.

The annotated sky. Pollux and Castor on the left represent the twins brothers in the constellation Gemini, for which the Geminid meteors are named. The shape of Orion is a little more easily distinguished on the right. We also see a very faint portion of the Milky Way in this December night sky. It is brightest in the summer months. There were no planets visible in this part of the sky that night.

The annotated sky. Pollux and Castor on the left represent the twins brothers in the constellation Gemini, for which the Geminid meteors are named. The shape of Orion is a little more easily distinguished on the right. We also see a very faint portion of the Milky Way in this December night sky. It is brightest in the summer months. There were no planets visible in this part of the sky that night.

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