The Geminid meteor shower is tomorrow, so amateur astronomers are preparing for what should be a spectacular show. The Geminids are known for producing some of the brightest meteors of all, resulting in a beautiful light show in the night sky.
Bill Cook, the lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office, told Newsweek they expect to see up to 100 meteors each hour. Since the new moon occurred just a few days ago, the meteors will be bright, and only bad weather can get in their way.
“Sky watchers are encouraged to go out after moon set at 10:30 p.m. [on December 13]; that way there will be no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors,” he said. “Those with really dark skies—away from city and suburb lights—should see as many as 100 Geminids per hour when Gemini is highest around 2 a.m. Folks in suburbia should see one quarter to one half this rate, depending on the amount of artificial lights in their vicinity.”
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The Geminids usually start appearing in the sky in early December and last until the second half of the month. The meteor shower usually peaks some time in mid-December. Since meteors move so fast, most of them burn up in the atmosphere before reaching the ground. Meteor showers generally occur when the debris left behind by comets enters our atmosphere as Earth passes through their tails.
The meteors which are part of the Geminid meteor shower are a bit unusual, however. They come from a mysterious asteroid which also displays features of a comet.
“Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Geminids originate from an asteroid: 3200 Phaethon,” NASA explained. “Asteroid 3200 Phaethon takes 1.4 years to orbit the sun once. It is possible that Phaethon is a ‘dead comet’ or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a ‘rock comet.’”
According to NASA, the meteors coming from Phaethon’s debris travel at roughly 79,000 miles per hour, which is 22 miles per second. Although they are extremely bright, the first recorded views of the Geminids were relatively recent because they were seen in 1862 for the first time. Other bright meteors, like the Perseids, were initially recorded in 36 AD.
If you want to watch the Geminid meteor shower tomorrow, the best views will be in non-urban areas which don’t have a lot of light pollution, Cook told Newsweek. He also offered several tips to help sky watchers enjoy the show.
He suggests that viewers go to a dark area quite a bit before the meteor shower begins because it can take up to 45 minutes for our eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. The brightest meteors in your area can be seen directly overhead.
You don’t need a telescope to watch a meteor shower, especially one as bright as the Geminid meteor shower tomorrow. Because the moon is in its ascending phase, it’s far from being a full moon, which means it won’t wash away any of the meteors. However, for an enhanced experience, having binoculars is a good idea. Hopefully the weather will be as pleasant as it can be for this light show.