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The Geminid meteor shower

Virtualastro, Contributor
Dec 11, 2012, 8:00 UTC, Updated Dec 3, 2014, 18:22 UTC

Sen—The Geminid meteor shower is considered among many astronomers to be the most reliable of the annual meteor showers with bright persistent shooting stars. The Geminids are the last of the meteor showers of the year and peak on the night of December 13/14.

Meteor rates could be as much as 60 or more meteors per hour at its peak with dark clear skies. There should also be good opportunities to see meteors—also known as 'shooting stars'—a day or so either side of the peak and a few days leading up to it.

This year, provided the sky is clear, many of the meteors will be visible but fainter ones will be more difficult to see in the small hours after midnight. This is due to the light of the waning gibbous Moon sending a milky glow across the sky. However with patience many of the brighter meteors—and if you are lucky bright fireballs—can be seen.

The Geminid meteor shower is one of the most enigmatic of the annual meteor showers because it is believed to originate from the debris trail of an asteroid (3200 Phaethon) rather than a comet like other meteor showers. Some believe that 3200 Phaethon was once a comet and is now the rocky core left behind after all the sublimation ceased.

Geminid meteors are typically pieces of grit and rock which speed through space at tens or hundreds of kilometres a second and when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere they burn up, creating bright streaks across the sky. Geminids can be brighter and usually slower than meteors from showers such as the Leonids and Perseids and have long persistent trails.

The Geminids get their name from the constellation from where they appear to originate, also known as the radiant, in the constellation of Gemini.

Geminid Meteor Shower

Radiant/ point of origin of the Geminids. Image credit: VirtualAstro

Watching the Geminid meteor shower is fun and enjoyable and something anyone can do. You don’t need a telescope or any other equipment, you only need your eyes, and glasses if you need them! Wrap up very warm as you will be outside for a while, you could make some warm drinks such as soup or hot chocolate to take with you to make your observing more pleasant. It’s also a good idea to have a blanket or sleeping bag ready to throw over your legs or to wrap up in when you are observing.

Find an area away from bright lights such as street and security lights and give yourself a good 20 minutes to let your eyes adapt to the dark. Most importantly, lay on a reclining garden chair, trampoline, blanket or something you can lay back on and keep your head at an angle so you’re not crooking your neck as you look at the sky. You need to be comfortable to keep your gaze on the sky for as long as possible and not keep looking away or darting off indoors, you need to keep looking up to see lots of meteors. Blink and you could miss one!

Many people think they need to look at the radiant; however this isn’t always the best place to look, as Geminids will appear randomly in any part of the sky. The best thing to do is fill your gaze with as much sky as possible and keep looking for as long as you can, you will definitely see numerous meteors and maybe even fireballs (large bright meteors). If you want to take pictures and have a camera capable of taking long exposures or a DSLR camera and tripod, you could try long exposure photography to try and capture some Geminids using the same method.

Be patient, comfortable and expect to see a meteor every few minutes or even more frequently if the meteor shower is heavier. Most of all have fun and look up. For more information follow @VirtualAstro and @sen on Twitter. Good luck.