The Geminid meteor shower, usually the strongest meteor shower of the year, is starting to intensify ahead of its peak next week, and it’s already producing shooting stars and fireballs.
The Geminids have technically been active for a few weeks, but the rain will begin to increase significantly this weekend when it becomes possible to see about a dozen or more meteors per hour under ideal conditions, according to the American Meteor Society.
It’s a big wind-up to a much bigger crescendo, when the Geminids can deliver over a hundred meteors per hour on peak nights. It’s also the rare shower that doesn’t require you to wake up at excruciating hours before sunrise for the best viewing experience.
In 2022, the shower is active from November 19 to December 24, with a peak in the evening of December 13 until the next morning. The moon will be two-thirds full that night, which is a little disappointing but certainly not enough to deter skywatchers from heading outside. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, you’d better go for some Geminids later at night, but luckily that’s summer for you, requiring less warm layers than many watchers above the l equator will want to bring.
The Geminids are the rare meteor showers that do not appear to be attributed to an active comet making intermittent visits to the inner solar system spaced out by years or more. Instead, the source appears to be the asteroidwhich astronomers believe to be an extinct comet or a new type of object called a “rocky comet”, according to NASA.
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Either way, the debris and detritus that has shed Phaethon over the years forms denser dusty clouds than most comets leave behind. This explains why the Geminids are consistently one of the heaviest annual rainfalls. Every December we drift through the densest part of this cloud and hundreds or thousands of pebble-sized pieces burn up as they collide with our upper atmosphere.
To have the best chance of catching as many Geminids as possible, the most important thing to do is find a vantage point uncontaminated by light pollution that provides a wide view of the sky, which is hopefully , cloudless. While it’s best to mark the peak night on your calendar, it’s possible to catch a few meteors per hour right now, especially as other showers like theand the Taurids are still active.
If the moon is up, you can try to orient yourself so that it is behind your back as much as possible.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, lie back, relax, and give your eyes time to adjust. Then just watch. Allow at least an hour for the whole experience as there are always lulls in activity. On peak night, if you’re lucky with ideal conditions, you might see up to 150 meteors in an hour.
Your best chance of seeing that many is probably around 2 a.m., when the radiance from which the Geminids seem to radiate outwards (in the direction of the constellation Gemini, hence the name) is highest in the sky. . That said, the radiant is above the horizon earlier in the evening, as mentioned earlier, and these friendlier hours are also the best time to see a bright “earth grazer”, which is the nickname of a glowing fireball that seems to dramatically extinguish. just above the horizon.
Whatever you do, be sure to dress appropriately and bring refreshments so you’re not tempted to go back inside and spoil your night vision. Good tracking!