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What to know about the Geminids, the best meteor show of the year

Snowflakes won’t be the only small particles streaking across the night sky in mid-December. The falling ice crystals will be accompanied by dozens of dazzling meteors from the annual Geminid meteor shower. The spectacular display will be dubbed “the best meteor shower of the year,” and will peak on the evening of December 13 through December 14.

The Geminid meteor shower graces the skies around the world every December without fail. This supply is more reliable than snow for some of us (Washington, D.C. residents may remember that, after the lack of snowfall last year). The display began in late November and will end on Christmas Eve, according to the American Meteor Society. Interestingly, the show will peak and end on the same dates as last year.

The moon won’t be a spoiler during the shower’s peak because it will shine 1 percent brighter on the evening of December 13, according to American Meteor Society. This means dark skies for viewing.

One of the best parts? Almost everyone, no matter where you live on the planet, will be able to watch the show. But viewers in the Northern Hemisphere will get a better view and will have to prepare for cold weather.

Here’s everything you need to know about the greatest meteor show:

What is the Geminid meteor shower?

Meteors can be seen in December due to the Earth’s fixed orbit around the Sun. Every year, the Earth is swept away by debris left behind by comets and asteroids. The rice-sized meteorite, which travels at about 21 miles per second, burns up when it hits Earth’s outer atmosphere, creating colorful streaks across the sky. Don’t be surprised if you see streaks of purple, green, and amber, as Gemini stones are known to offer a range of colors.

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As with fireworks, the chemical composition of meteorites determines the color, said Noah Petrou, a scientist with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project. Iron causes yellow, sodium causes orange, magnesium causes blue, and calcium causes purple.

The Geminids have such a bright display due to the volume of debris involved. The Geminids have some of the largest debris of any meteor shower.

“The bigger it gets, the brighter it gets because it’s just more stuff burning up in Earth’s atmosphere,” Petro said.

What makes this different from other meteor showers?

The sheer number of ejected meteorites reinforces that the Geminids are the best show each year. Depending on the weather and location, more than 100 meteors can be seen per hour, but this was not always the case. During the mid-19th century, when the Geminid meteors first appeared, only 10 to 20 meteors could be seen per hour. According to NASA.

There is a possibility that the variation in number is based on the 3200 Phaethon’s 524 day cycle. (3200 Phaethon is the dominant orbiting asteroid among the twin asteroids.) Earth’s passage through a denser field of dust left behind by Phaethon could explain why people see more meteorites in some years, said Lawrence Garvey, curator of the Busiek Meteor Center at Arizona State University. studies.

“The implications of this are, [the Geminids] “It could get a lot better over the coming decades or it could go away again,” Garvey said.

Pietro warned that even if someone sees more than 100 meteors per hour, that doesn’t mean there will consistently be one or two per minute; Some time can pass without any.

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Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see hundreds per hour. Different conditions affect the visibility of a meteorite. For NASA Ambassador Tony Rice, expecting to see a few dozen meteors in one hour is more realistic.

“You have a chance of seeing a few dozen people, and you can increase your chances by going out a little later and making sure you’re in a dark location,” Rice said.

What is the best time to watch?

Rice said that since Geminis hail from the constellation Orion, which rises near sunset during this time of year, sky watchers can start seeing the “shooting star” clearly around 10 p.m. But the best time to watch is between midnight and two in the morning

“We will have a nice dark sky with meteors visible. The fact that it is so close to the new moon means less light pollution,” Rice said.

If you can’t hope to see meteors on December 13, don’t worry! The display will continue for more than a week after the peak, and there will be fewer meteors to be seen.

View tips from our experts

  • Look for darkness – this could be in a rural area, or if you can’t get to a rural location, look at the darkest part of the sky wherever you are.
  • Patience – Just because there is an average number of meteors does not mean you will see that number of meteors per hour.
  • Leave your phone inside. Looking at the device before heading up to the sky could ruin your innate night vision.
  • Get comfortable – pack your clothes and drink something warm if necessary while you wait for the show.
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