We’re in for yet another celestial treat as the Geminid Meteor Shower will peak tonight through Monday.
Sometimes called "The King of Meteor Showers," the Geminids will be the most dazzling meteoric display of the year. More than 120 meteors are expected to streak across the sky every hour during its peak, though this number could reach up to 150 meteors every 60 minutes, according to AccuWeather.
The Geminids are not only an ample lot, but they also plunge more deeply into the Earth’s atmosphere than other meteors. This generates long arcs you can see for 1-2 seconds, so if you were waiting to wish upon a shooting star, this is the time to do it.
What are the Geminids?
The Geminids are meteors, essentially rock or metal debris hurtling through space and enter the Earth’s atmosphere. These particular meteors are unique because they originate from an extinct comet, originally thought to be an asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon. Their origin gives them those long-lasting tails.
Here’s how the Geminid meteors are made: every 1.4 years, 3200 Phaethon travels close to the sun. When it does this solar sweep, it’s thought that the sun’s heat boils off dust from the old comet and sends this debris into the Geminid stream. This stream is massive: NASA estimates the dust funneling into it outweighs other streams by factors of five to 500. (If you’re keeping track at home, add another tick to the column of things that make the Geminid Meteor Shower one-of-a-kind.) Every year in mid-December, the Earth passes into 3200 Phaethon’s debris stream, thus producing the Geminid Meteor Shower.
The Geminids make impact with our atmosphere at 78,000 mph (35km/s), which NASA says is quite slow compared to other meteor showers. You will likely see the white glow produced by most shooting stars, but the Geminids can also burn yellow, red, green, blue or purple.
As for the name, the Geminids appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini.
When first spotted in the early 19th century, just before the US Civil War, the Geminids were a weak lot compared to other meteor showers. Since then though, the shower has gained steam, and it’s now what NASA calls the strongest annual shower we witness on Earth.
When to see the Geminid Meteor Shower
The shower is technically going on right now (it’s active between December 4 and December 16), but its peak is this Sunday night through early Monday morning.
The absolute best time to see the meteor shower is at 11pm PT Sunday. This is when the shower’s radiant point is at its highest. However, according to AccuWeather, Geminids may be visible beginning at sunset until just before sunrise.
You can still see the Geminids prior to and after its peak, but not as many will be visible. What’s more, there should be better visibility in the US on Monday night to see the meteors.
Where to see the Geminid Meteor Shower
The Geminids are a generous bunch when it comes to who can see them. The shower will be visible in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, though they do favor the north.
Unfortunately, inclement weather in parts of the US may make it difficult to see the shower. If you do have clear skies, head to a sparsely populated area away from city lights. While coming from the southwest, the meteors are so far away that they will appear to take up the whole sky. A crescent moon that sets early will afford good visibility where skies are clear.
You may need some time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, experts suggest, so it could take a bit before you start to see the meteors.
And here’s our favorite tip: The best way to view the shower is to lie on your back and simply look up. We can’t think of a better way to enjoy the cosmic light show.
Top image credit: NASA
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