The best holiday light show on Long Island might not involve the houses in your neighborhood but instead, the heavens above.
It’s called the Geminids meteor shower.
And, though it happens every year, this year's show, which began Nov. 19 and runs until Christmas Eve, will be at its most spectacular in the night skies on Dec. 13-14, NASA, The Planetary Society and other astronomy experts agree.
That's when there could be as many as 120 shooting stars per hour visible to the naked eye.
There’s just one caveat: You’ll need to find someplace dark.
Like sci-fi, fantasy horror-flick dark.
Because light pollution — house lights, streetlights, car headlights, holiday lights — will all impede a viewer’s ability to see those meteors and meteorites streaking across the night skies, said Stony Brook University Department of Physics and Astronomy professor Frederick Walter.
“If you’re going to be standing in the middle of the city or in a neighborhood on Long Island you’re not going to see as many stars at night — and you’re not going to see the faintest of these meteors,” Walter said. “It’s just not dark enough. You want a dark sky. The darkest sky.”
To that end, the Long Island Regional Office of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced six Long Island parks will remain open during nighttime viewing hours for the Geminids meteor shower next Wednesday and Thursday. All, at no charge.
The only requirement, Parks Regional Director George Gorman said, is that viewers remain in the parking lot near their vehicles.
Those parks include: Jones Beach State Park, Field 6; Sunken Meadow State Park, Field 3; Robert Moses State Park, Field 2; Hallock State Park Preserve, Upper Parking Lot; Orient Beach State Park, Main Parking Lot; and Montauk Point State Park, Upper Parking Lot.
The Geminids are one of the two big meteor showers during the year, the other being the Perseids, which occur mid-July to mid-August.
These are called the Geminids, according to The Planetary Society, co-founded by Cosmos astronomer Carl Sagan, because they “appear to originate from the Gemini constellation.”
In fact, they’re the result of Earth passing through material “broken off from an oddball asteroid named 3200 Phaethon,” The Planetary Society said.
That is, they’re “space rubble.”
The Custer Observatory in Southold and Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium in Centerport will not have specific viewing for the Geminids.
But, both have related programs to learn about the night skies.
On Dec. 15, the Vanderbilt has a ticket-required show called “Long Island Skies” at 7 p.m. followed by tours of the observatory, while Custer has an outdoor presentation Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. to learn about the season’s constellations. It’s called “Winter Wonders Of The Night Sky.”
The Center for Environmental Education and Discovery at 287 S. Country Rd. in Brookhaven will host a 90-minute presentation with Vanderbilt Outreach Coordinator Charles Eder on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. to talk about the Geminids. He’ll explain the difference between meteors, meteorites, asteroids and comets; he'll also offer viewing tips. Ticket information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Even though we call them shooting stars, they’re actually just rocks burning up in the atmosphere,” Eder said. “But, it’s something humans have been doing for thousands of years — looking up at the night skies — and watching this you’ll be connected to your ancestors … Just remember, you’re definitely going to have to dress warm.”
Added Walter, “A meteor shower is like nature’s fireworks.”