The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks on Sunday 13th and Monday 14th. This year, it will be especially well timed with the New Moon, meaning that there will be no moonlight to brighten the sky, leaving the sky dark and at its finest for a meteor shower.
What causes a meteor shower?
Every day, there are dust particles and small objects flying into the Earth's atmosphere from space, sometimes randomly, sometimes predictably, causing a 'shooting star' in the night sky. And sometimes with great surprise, a larger piece of an asteroid will fly into the atmosphere and become visible as a Fireball
, as was the case two weeks ago in Japan
. The Geminids are predictable, one of many annual meteor showers
that are caused when the Earth travels through the remnants of a comet or asteroid that has orbited the Sun sometime in the past, leaving a debris stream in its wake. What causes the Geminids?
Every year on December 13th and 14th, the Earth travels through such a wake (of an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon
) and we have a lovely meteor shower, as the dust and sand particles impact the Earth's atmosphere at high speed and heat up the air, causing it to glow as the meteor hurtles toward Earth. Nearly all of the particles in a meteor shower never reach the surface of the Earth, but those that do (called Meteorites, once they've landed) are of great scientific interest.
How to see the Geminids: For any meteor shower, you want to find a dark location where you have a wide horizon. You don't need to look in any one direction, but ideally relax on a blanket or chair and simply look up, and have patience. And of course, for most of us it's winter and it's cold, so you need to dress extra-warm.
If you want to learn more, this helpful article from Astronomy Magazine provides a great deal of information about the Geminids.
Happy Viewing, and stay warm!
Image courtesy of ESO.