When will Geminid meteor shower peak? All you need to know about the spectacular phenomenon

Under dark, clear skies, the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors per hour, so find a good spot, lay on your back and enjoy the dazzling display of fireballs


                            When will Geminid meteor shower peak? All you need to know about the spectacular phenomenon
(Getty Images)

This weekend, on the night of December 13 and into the morning of December 14, tune into the night sky for a dazzling display of fireballs. The Geminid meteor shower, which is considered to be one of the best and strongest of the year, hits peak each year in mid-December as Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by asteroid 3200 Phaethon. 

The Geminids are bright and fast meteors and tend to be yellow in color. Their radiant — the point in the sky from which the Geminids appear to come from — is the constellation Gemini, “the twins". The constellation of Gemini is also where the shower gets its name. This year, Geminids are expected to peak on the night of December 13-14. On this night, the Moon will be 1% full, according to the American Meteor Society. Some meteor activity may be visible in the days before and after. 

According to scientists, the Geminids did not start as the most reliable annual meteor showers. They first began appearing in the mid-1800s, but the first showers were not noteworthy with only 10-20 meteors seen per hour. Since that time, the Geminids have grown to become one of the most major showers of the year. Under dark, clear skies, the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors per hour. 

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from asteroids. When these objects come around the Sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. Every year, the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky. Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Geminids originate from the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, which takes 1.4 years to orbit the Sun once. 3200 Phaethon was discovered on October 11, 1983, by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. 

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from asteroids. When these objects come around the Sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them (Getty Images)

Phaethon is a small asteroid — its diameter measures only 3.17 miles (5.10 kilometers) across. It was astronomer Fred Whipple who realized that Phaethon is the source for the Geminid meteors.

Experts suggest it may be possible that Phaethon is a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a “rock comet". Phaethon’s comet-like highly elliptical orbit around the Sun gives credence to this hypothesis. However, scientists are not certain how to define Phaethon. When Phaethon passes by the Sun, it does not develop a cometary tail. The bits and pieces that break off to form the Geminid meteoroids are also several times denser than cometary dust flakes. 

“Phaethon’s nature is debated. It’s either a near-Earth asteroid or an extinct comet, sometimes called a rock comet. There is another object – an Apollo asteroid named 2005 UD – that is in a dynamically similar orbit to Phaethon, prompting speculation that the two were once part of a larger body that split apart or collided with another asteroid," emphasizes NASA. 

How can you view the Geminids?

The Geminids are best viewed during the night and predawn hours. Experts advise finding the darkest place one can and giving the eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark. No special equipment is needed.

“Lie flat on your back with your feet pointing south, and look straight up, taking in as much sky as possible. Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, though they’ll appear to radiate from near the constellation Gemini. Viewing is good all night for the Northern Hemisphere, with activity peaking around 2 am local time, and after midnight for viewers in the Southern Hemisphere,” notes NASA.

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