Make sure to look up to the skies tonight (December 13 to December 14), the Geminid Meteor Shower is happening.
- The Geminid meteors are bright, so skywatchers can spot as many as 120 of the objects streaking by per hour in dark skies. This happens as pieces of dust and debris burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The meteors appear to radiate from the bright constellation Gemini, but they can appear all over the sky! In fact, meteors farther from Gemini are likely to have longer tails and be easier to spot.
- The meteor shower is caused by dust and debris strewn in the path of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which itself orbits Earth every 1.4 years. The asteroid passes within 13 million miles (21 million kilometers) of the sun on each orbit, 14 percent the distance between Earth and the sun. This earned the space rock the name Phaethon, after the Greek sun-god Helios’ chariot driver.
- The Geminids were first spotted almost 200 years ago; the first recorded observation came in 1833 from a riverboat on the Mississippi River. But at the time, only 10-20 meteors per hour could be seen.
- While most meteor showers are best seen after midnight, the Geminids have a special appeal to early birds. These meteors appear in the sky as early as 10 p.m. local time, Cooke said, although they peak at 2 a.m. To see the Geminids, go to a dark area outside and prepare to settle in for the long haul — allow at least 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust, lean back and look at the whole sky, because the meteors can appear anywhere. And if it’s cold where you are, don’t forget to bundle up!
- The Geminids, as their name implies, appear to emanate from the bright constellation Gemini (the twins). To find Gemini in the Northern hemisphere, look in the southwestern sky for the constellation Orion, which is easy to spot by the three stars in the hunter’s “belt.” Then look just up and to the left of Orion to see Gemini, high in the southwestern sky. In the southern hemisphere, Gemini appears to the lower right of Orion and both will hang in the northwestern sky.