One of the strongest meteor showers of the year is set to begin this week, and celestial observers are eagerly awaiting its peak in two weeks, when there will be no moonlight to obscure the view.
The Geminids begin Friday and will be active through December 17. When they peak on December 13-14, the moon phase will be “new moon”, so the moon will be on the other side of the Earth at night. It will be above us during the day, but it will not be visible because the illuminated side is facing away from us.
In other words, it will be the darkest of nights when the Geminids reach their peak.
Meteor showers take their names from the constellations they appear to emerge from, and in this case it is the constellation Gemini. At its peak, the Geminids can produce 120 meteors per hour, traveling at a speed of 22 miles per second.
“The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor shower of the year, and meteor enthusiasts are sure to circle December 13-14 on their calendars,” said a report on the American Meteor Society website. “This is the only major shower to ensure good activity before midnight as the Gemini constellation is well placed from 10pm. The Geminids are often bright and intensely colored. “
While most meteors are from comets, the Geminids are from an asteroid that may be the remains of a dead comet. In either case, they appear as shooting stars when they enter and burn up Earth’s atmosphere. Asteroids are basically rocks that orbit the sun, but comets are very different.
“Comets are frozen remnants of the formation of the solar system made up of dust, rock and ice,” the definition said on a NASA website. “They range from a few miles to tens of kilometers wide, but as they rotate closer to the sun, they heat up and spew gases and dust into a glowing head that can be larger (in appearance) than a planet. This material forms a tail that stretches for millions of miles. “
Here are some tips from NASA for viewing the Geminids:
- “The Geminids are best viewed at night and before sunrise and are visible all over the world thanks to a nearly 24-hour wide maximum. This shower is considered one of the best options for young viewers as it starts around 9 or 10 pm
- “To see the Geminids, find an area away from city or street lighting.
- “Prepare for winter temperatures with a sleeping bag, blanket or garden chair.
- Lie flat on your back with your feet facing south, look up and take in as much of the air as you can. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes adjust and you start seeing meteors.
- “Be patient – the show lasts until dawn, so you’ll have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.
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