The Geminids meteor shower, one of the most dazzling and dependable displays of shooting stars in the night sky, is reaching its peak tonight. Here is everything you need to know about how and when to watch this celestial spectacle.
The Geminids are a meteor shower that occurs every year in mid-December, when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by a rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Unlike most meteor showers, which are caused by comets, the Geminids are the result of an asteroid that behaves like a comet, shedding dust and rocks as it orbits the sun.
The Geminids are named after the constellation Gemini, from where they appear to radiate in the sky. They are known for their brightness, speed, and abundance. In ideal conditions, observers can see up to 150 meteors per hour at the peak of the shower. The Geminids also produce fireballs, which are very bright and long-lasting meteors that can light up the whole sky.
When and where to watch the Geminids?
The Geminids meteor shower is visible from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, but it favors the Northern Hemisphere, where the radiant point is higher in the sky. The shower started on November 19 and will last until December 24, but the best time to watch it is tonight, December 14, when it reaches its maximum activity.
The peak of the shower is expected to occur around 8 a.m. EST (13:00 GMT) on Wednesday, December 15, but the meteors will be visible throughout the night, starting from around 9 p.m. local time on Tuesday. The best time to watch is around 2 a.m. local time, when the radiant point is at its highest and the meteors are most frequent and bright.
To watch the Geminids, you do not need any special equipment, such as a telescope or binoculars. All you need is a clear and dark sky, away from city lights and moonlight. The moon will be in its waning gibbous phase, which means it will be bright and may interfere with the visibility of the meteors. To avoid this, you can try to find a spot where the moon is blocked by a building, a tree, or a hill.
To enjoy the show, lie down on a blanket or a reclining chair, and look up at the sky. Try to take in as much of the sky as possible, and avoid looking at your phone or any other bright object, as it takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Be patient and watch for at least an hour, as the meteors come in spurts and lulls. You may see a few meteors every minute, or none at all for several minutes.
What else can you see in the night sky?
The Geminids are not the only attraction in the night sky this month. You can also look for some of the brightest stars and planets that are visible in December. Here are some of them:
- Jupiter and Saturn: The two giant planets are still close together in the sky, after their rare conjunction last year. You can find them in the southwest after sunset, shining brightly above the horizon. Jupiter is the brighter one, and Saturn is to its upper left. You can use a telescope or binoculars to see their moons and rings.
- Venus: The brightest planet in the sky is also in the southwest after sunset, but much lower than Jupiter and Saturn. It is so bright that it can be mistaken for a plane or a UFO. Venus will reach its greatest elongation, or its farthest point from the sun, on December 19, when it will appear as a half-lit disk.
- Mars: The red planet is in the southeast before dawn, rising about two hours before the sun. It is not very bright, but it has a distinctive reddish hue. Mars will be in conjunction with the moon on December 23, when they will be very close together in the sky.
- Sirius: The brightest star in the night sky is in the south around midnight, sparkling with different colors. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog, and is also known as the Dog Star. It is so bright that it can cast shadows on the ground on a moonless night.