Geminids over South Florida

Since the annual Geminid Meteor Shower was forecast to peak overnight, I got up early this morning to watch the display before dawn.  Produced by debris from 3200 Phaethon, a "rock comet" discovered in 1983, the Geminids are observed in mid December (generally from the 12th to the 16th), when Earth passes through the dust trail of that asteroid; the latter orbits the sun every 1.4 years.

Due to the path of Earth's orbit through 3200 Phaethon's debris field, the meteors appear to radiate from the Gemini Constellation; this morning, Jupiter gleamed close to that pair of stars, providing a bright centerpiece for the annual show.  During my hour of observation, which was intermittently impaired by thin clouds, I saw at least a dozen meteors, half of which produced long, flare-like tracks.

Enjoying the show next to Sarasota Bay, the early morning serenity was broken at times by the squawk of night herons and the splash of jumping fish.  Yet, observing this December shower in South Florida certainly had its advantages; while the dry, clear air of the High Plains might have offered more spectacular viewing, the mild temperature of the Sunshine State (63 degrees F at 5:30 AM) made the display more comfortable to watch.  As the first rays of dawn lit the thin overcast, the show came to an end, leaving me to ponder our unique place but inconsequential role in this vast Universe.