Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere could see up to 70 meteors per hour next Sunday (December 13-14), when the Geminid meteor shower reach its peak.
The prospects for what should be the best meteor display this year are particularly good, as there will be no Moon in the sky that interferes with the view, the Royal Astronomical Society explains in a statement.
Meteorites are small fragments of interplanetary debris that burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. They come at high speeds, in the case of the Geminids, normally at 130 thousand kilometers per hour. Friction with the upper atmosphere rapidly heats incoming debris, the air around it glows brightly, and the particles are rapidly destroyed. The resulting ray of light is what we see from the ground as a meteor or “shooting star.”
Outside of meteor showers, there are perhaps six random (sporadic) meteors visible every hour from a given location on any given night. But throughout the year, Earth’s orbit intersects with material left behind by comets or, in the case of the Geminids, the asteroid Phaethon. When we come across these thicker streams of debris, there is an increase in the number of meteors – a shower.
Meteors in the next shower can appear anywhere in the sky, but their trails appear to originate from a single point (known as the radiant) in the constellation gemini, hence the name Geminids. These meteors appear to move quite slowly and can be intense in color.
Best time to see the Geminids
To see the rain, observers must look up after 10 p.m. According to NASA, the best time to observe will be from 2:00 to 4:00 in the morning, because the number of meteorites increases.
Tips to see the meteor shower
If Covid restrictions allow, the best views are always away from city lights, but with a clear sky, even urban sky watchers should see at least some meteorites.
Rain will be visible as long as the sky is clear. Meteor showers are easy to observe and require no special equipment, though December nights call for warm clothing, and a reclining chair and blankets make viewing more comfortable. If clouds make viewing impossible this weekend, the meteor showers will continue for a few more days with reduced activity.
NASA recommends that the eye adapt to the darkness of the sky to better observe them. To achieve adaptation, the sky must be observed for about 30 minutes, without using a cell phone because it could affect night vision.
If you can’t go out to see the Geminids, the US space agency will broadcast the show live on its Facebook account Nasa Metheor Watcher.