What is the Geminid meteor shower, and where does it come from?
“Green fireballs” are set to light up the sky this week, according to NASA, making it one of the best weeks for sky watching this year.
The Geminid meteor shower starts overnight Thursday to Friday, when the most meteors will be visible, originating from near the brightest star in the Gemini constellation — Castor, according to Space.com.
“The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor showers of the year and meteor enthusiasts are certain to circle Dec. 13 and 14 on their calendars,” according to the American Meteor Society. NASA also says the Geminids are the strongest shower of the year.
The Geminids are bright and there should be a good number of them (60 to 120 per hour), but perhaps one of the best parts of the light show is that the meteors move slower than other major showers.
“I’ve often said they resemble ‘celestial field mice’ as they scurry across the sky, producing good numbers of bright, graceful, yellowish-white meteors and fireballs,” wrote Joe Rao of Space.com.
The Geminids generally move at about 22 miles per second, according to NASA.
And while most other meteor showers are best seen during the late night or early morning hours, the geminids should be visible throughout the night and in the nights leading up to and following the peak, according to AccuWeather.
“Most meteor showers tend to have better meteor rates after midnight, but the Geminids will be very active all night,“ AccuWeather astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said.
The best viewing will still be after midnight on Thursday, after the moon sets and the rate of meteors flashing across the sky increases, according to AccuWeather.
The bright green Geminids are visible on Earth each December when the Earth moves through “a massive trail of dusty debris shed by a weird, rocky object named 3200 Phaethon. The dust and grit burn up when they run into Earth’s atmosphere in a flurry of ‘shooting stars,’” according to NASA.
A few days later, on Sunday, a bright comet should also be visible, the closest the comet has come to Earth since the 1950s, according to Space.com.
The 46P/Wirtnanen comet, which is about 3/4 of a mile long, should move across the sky the morning of Dec. 16, according to NASA, and binoculars or a telescope will help you get a better view.
“A green comet to compliment the green fireballs!” according to NASA.
When the moon sets around 10:30 p.m. local time, according to NASA, you should find a dark place, give your eyes time to adjust, lie on your back and look up.
The later it gets, the more meteors you’ll see, according to NASA, until the shower peaks around 2 a.m.
Most people away from major light pollution should see 1-2 per minute. People who live in the suburbs should see less, about 30 or 40 per hour.
If you’re in the middle of a major city, you probably won’t see anything, according to NASA.
“Even though the Geminids are rich in beautiful green fireballs, the lights of New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta will blot even them out. Dark clear skies are the most important ingredient in observing meteor showers,” according to NASA.
While it may appear as though the Geminids originate from the constellation they get their name from, they should be visible across the sky, according to NASA.
The comet should be visible just above the eastern horizon Sunday night and will be closest at about 8 a.m. Eastern Time on Dec. 16, according to NASA.
The best view of the comet and the meteor shower is likely the central part of the United States. The East Coast’s view could be obstructed by cloud cover, according to AccuWeather.
You can track the comet online using the Virtual Telescope Project.