December 11, 2020 3 min read
Get ready for the Geminids! The great Geminid Meteor Shower peaks the night of December 13, 2020. Get information here about the best times to view these famous shooting stars!
The Geminids are widely recognized as the best annual meteor shower a stargazer can see, occurring between Dec. 4 to Dec. 17, with the best nights for viewing on Dec. 13 and 14.
We’ll have an even more spectacular show this year as the New Moon on December 14 graces us with extra-dark skies that will make stars and meteors truly pop. Periodic meteor showers will light up the night sky with shooting stars.
Except these aren’t stars. Instead, they are tiny pieces of dust and debris skimming through Earth’s atmosphere, burning up in a spectacular, brief display of light. With absolutely no interference from the Moon and a maximum expected rate of up to 150 meteors per hour, this is one show you won’t want to miss. Here’s everything you need to know about how to see the year’s best meteor shower!
When is the best time to observe Geminids?
The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13/14. The shower will peak around 01:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere can see Geminids starting around 7:30 – 8:00 p.m. local time on Dec. 13, with a rate of meteors increasing as 2 a.m. approaches. In the Southern Hemisphere, good rates will be seen between midnight and dawn local time on Dec. 14. Geminid watchers who observe from midnight to 4 a.m. should catch the most meteors.
How many Geminids can observers expect to see on Dec. 13/14?
Realistically, the predicted rate for observers in the Northern Hemisphere is closer to 60 meteors per hour. This means you can expect to see an average of one Geminid per minute in dark skies at the shower peak. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere will see fewer Geminids than their Northern Hemisphere counterparts – perhaps 25% of rates in the Northern Hemisphere, depending on their latitude.
What causes the Geminids?
Meteors occur when the Earth rushes through a stream of dust and debris left behind by a passing comet. When the space dust strikes the Earth’s upper atmosphere, friction with the air causes each particle to heat and burn up. We see the result as a meteor.
Interestingly, Geminid meteors didn’t seem to be associated with a comet until recently. The Geminid meteor shower was thought to be caused by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, which was first detected by NASA in 1983. The odd part of this is that asteroids don’t disintegrate in the same way that comets do to produce meteor showers. Phaethon has therefore been reclassified as an extinct comet that has lost its outer covering. This helps explain why the Geminids are so bright. They’re little pieces of mostly rocky material that take longer to burn up as they fall into the atmosphere, whereas most meteor showers are caused by the softer, icier debris from comets.
The Geminid meteors also move more slowly than other meteors, such as the Perseids. The decrease in speed makes viewing much easier. The Geminid meteor shower is also relatively new. All other major meteor showers have been observed for centuries, but the Geminids were first observed in 1862 in Manchester, England. The Geminid meteor shower was at first very modest, but it now delivers one to two meteors a minute.
Geminids travel 78,000 mph (35 km/s). This is over 1000 times faster than a cheetah, about 250 times faster than the swiftest car in the world, and over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet!
Where can I watch the Geminid Meteor Shower?
If you’re someone who happens to live in the city or for some reason, you’re unable to make it outside for this event, Nasa will be broadcasting a live stream of the shower’s peak Dec. 13-14. They have a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.
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