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News Astronomy

Geminid Meteor Shower Sure to Make the Holidays Sparkle

White streaks across a night sky are from the 2013 Geminid Meteor Showers.
The 2013 Geminid meteor showers in the northern hemisphere. Photo by Asim Patel (CC).

This December features one of the best meteor showers of the year. During the peak of the shower, you may be able to see as many as 120 shooting stars per hour, one of the highest rates of all the meteor showers throughout the year. Unfortunately, the peak of the shower is around the full moon but the shower is so bright, you’ll still be able to see lots of meteors.

What Causes the Geminid Meteor Shower?

This meteor shower is the product of 3200 Phaethon, the best example of a “rock comet,” an astronomical body that has the features of both an asteroid and a comet. The asteroid-like object has an elliptical orbit that brings it really close to the Sun every 1.4 years. The Sun’s extreme heat causes the rocky object to fragment and crumble, shedding the debris along its orbit. Every year around this time, the debris slams into Earth’s atmosphere at 80,000 miles (130,000 kilometers) per hour and vaporizes. The result? A beautiful display of “shooting stars.”

The meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini. If you trace the paths of the Geminid meteors, they all seem to “radiate” from the constellation, hence why Gemini is known as the meteor shower’s “radiant.”

When’s the Best Time to View the Geminids?

The peak of the shower is expected to be the evening of December 13 into the early morning hours of December 14, but according to EarthSky you might want to “try watching anywhere from the evening of December 12 to the morning of December 15.”

Luckily for us, the moon will be a thin crescent and only seen in the early evening hours. This creates excellent conditions for seeing the meteors streak across the sky. Beware, this shower does slightly favor the Northern Hemisphere for best viewing. The shower is best viewed around 2 a.m. locally. This is when radiant point – in the constellation Gemini – is highest in the sky.

What’s the Best Way to View Them?

Make sure that you’re away from light pollution in a dark place – the darker the better – with a wide angle view of the sky and few obstructions on the horizon such as trees and buildings. Wear warm clothes and bring a blanket. Viewing is best lying down. You don’t have to look toward the radiant to see the meteors and you don’t need binoculars or a telescope. Rather, try to view the largest amount of sky possible. Be patient. It’ll take about 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to dark. Just lie back and enjoy!