The Geminid meteor shower is approaching, and this year’s display promises to be extra special. The peak of the shower falls at new Moon, meaning the night sky will be beautifully dark from the moment the Geminids first become visible until dawn breaks. This creates the perfect conditions for viewing the natural fireworks display.
The Geminids are created when Earth passes through streams of dust and debris left behind by asteroids and comets. In December, Earth passes through a stream of debris left by an asteroid called (3200) Phaethon. This asteroid has an unusual orbit that takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury and farther away than Mars, causing its surface to shatter and release dust into space. The dust spreads around Phaethon’s orbit, and when Earth reaches a certain part of the orbit, it passes through the resulting tube of debris, giving birth to the Geminid meteor shower.
The best time to watch the Geminids is when the constellation Gemini rises from your location. The higher in the sky the radiant (the point from which the meteors appear to radiate) is, the more meteors you’ll see. The peak rate of meteors can be seen when the radiant is at its highest, which occurs when it’s due north. The table provided in the article indicates the time the radiant will rise and reach its highest point for major cities on December 14-15.
To spot the Geminid meteors, it’s best to find and face the radiant in the constellation Gemini and then turn so you’re looking at a spot about 45 degrees to the left or right of the radiant. This means looking to the north or east when the radiant is in the northeastern part of the sky, northeast or northwest when it’s at its highest, and west or north as it moves towards dawn.
To have the best experience, it’s recommended to lie down and look up at about a 45 degree angle from the ground. It’s also important to find a location with minimal light pollution for optimal viewing. Grab your friends or loved ones and head out to a nice and dark spot, such as a camping trip, to enjoy the Geminid meteor shower.