Take your winter coat and gloves, have some coffee, step outside and view up. The Geminid meteor shower is going to be the most powerful shooting stars of 2017 crowns in the night of Dec. 13-14. Perhaps you’ve already seen a bright meteor flare over the December sky? The Geminid meteor shower has arrived now. It is a great time to get up, go outside and let the world blow your mind!
“With August’s Perseids covered by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower of this year,” stated Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “The thin, fading crescent Moon will not spoil the show.” The shower will remain overnight Dec. 13-14 with rates approximately one per minute under suitable circumstances, according to Cooke. Geminids can be seen in nighttime before and after the Dec. 14 peak, although they will seem less often. The Geminids are live every December when Earth crosses through a large trail of dusty debris shed by an eerie, solid object called 3200 Phaethon. The dirt and grit burn up when they run into Earth’s environment in a flurry of “shooting stars.”
“Phaethon’s nature is questioned,” said Cooke. “It’s either a near-Earth asteroid or an unknown comet, sometimes called a rock comet.” As a bonus this year, cosmologists will have a chance to examine Phaethon up close in mid-December, when it crosses adjacent to Earth since its discovery in 1983. Meteor showers are titled after the position of the radiant, usually a star or constellation close to where they emerge in the night sky. The Geminid radiant is in the constellation Gemini.
The Geminids can be observed with the bared eye under clear, dark skies over most of the globe, though the best show is from the Northern Hemisphere. Spectators will see several Geminids in the Southern Hemisphere, where the radiant doesn’t rise very high above the horizon. Skywatching is simple. Just get aside from lights and stare up in any direction! Give your eyes time to settle in the dark. Meteors rise all across the sky.
Not all the meteorites you might see belong to the Geminid shower, however. Some might be random background meteors, and some might be from weaker, active showers like the Monocerotids, Sigma Hydrids and the Comae Berenicids. “When you see a meteor, attempt to trace it backwards,” said Cooke. “If you end up in the constellation Gemini there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid.”