Stargazers are in for a treat next week with the Geminid meteor shower set to light up skies across the globe. According to the Planetary Society, the shower produces consistently stunning light shows this time each year, with meteors that are fast, frequent, and bright depending on where they're viewed. Whether you catch the spectacle every December or you'll be watching it for the first time, there's some important information to know.
What is the Geminid Meteor Shower?
While most meteor showers are the product of our planet passing through the tail of a comet, the Geminid meteors come from something different: A small, rocky asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaethon that leaves a wake of fiery debris like a comet. Its orbit brings it very close to the sun, and when this happens, bits of rock break off in the heat and trail the object through space. (Some astronomers refer to 3200 Phaethon as a "rock comet.")
When Earth passes through the tail, the debris burns up in the atmosphere, producing a bright show that's visible from the ground. And because the matter that trails 3200 Phaethon is denser than what you'd find behind a comet, it takes longer to burn up, creating a brighter spark and sometimes breaking up into multiple meteorites. This year viewers can expect to see up to 150 meteors per hour at the shower's zenith.
When to see the Geminid Meteor Shower
The shower peaks the night of Monday, December 13 and early Tuesday morning on December 14. The best time to watch is when the skies are darkest, usually around 2 a.m. local time. Unfortunately, the moon will be about three-quarters full that night, making it harder to see the shooting stars.
The Geminid meteor shower is visible around the world, though it's most prominent in the Northern Hemisphere. Find a stargazing spot with as little light pollution as possible and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness, then settle in for the show.
[h/t Planetary Society]