One of the most popular meteor showers in the night sky and the most impressive meteor shower of the year – Geminid meteor shower – is set to peak between the nighttime on December 13 and the early morning December 14, 2015, producing up to 120 meteors per hour in perfect conditions. The near new moon will not interfere with observing on either night.
The Geminids started appearing in the mid-1800s, however, with only 10 – 20 meteors seen per hour the first showers were not noteworthy. Since that time, the Geminids have grown to become one of the most major and most reliable meteor showers of the year. The Geminids are bright and fast meteors and tend to be yellow in color.
Geminids originate from an asteroid 3200 Phaethon which takes 1.4 years to orbit the Sun once. Astronomers speculate whether Phaethon is a "dead comet" or a new kind of object called a "rock comet". Its comet-like highly elliptical orbit around the Sun gives credence to this hypothesis. However, scientists are not certain how to define Phaethon. When Phaethon passes by the Sun it does not develop a cometary tail, and its spectra looks like a rocky asteroid. Also, the bits and pieces (2-3 gm/cc) that break off to form the Geminid meteoroids are also several times denser than cometary dust flakes (0.3 gm/cc).
The Geminids are bright and fast meteors and tend to be yellow in color. They are best viewed during the night and pre-dawn hours and are visible across the globe due to a nearly 24-hour broad maximum.
Their radiant, the point in the sky from which the Geminids appear to come from, is the constellation Gemini, the "Twins."
To view the Geminids, find an area well away from city or street lights. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt and you will begin to see meteors. Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
Featured image credit: Geminid meteor by Tierra Lady (CC – Flickr)
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