Everything You Need to Know for This Weekend’s Epic Meteor Shower

December 12, 2015 | Gillian Burrell

A green meteor streaks toward the ground against a backdrop of the starry sky
Photo credit: ESO, C. Malin (CC BY 4.0)

If you only catch one meteor shower this year, NASA recommends this one!

The Geminid meteor shower is normally one of the best and brightest astronomical events of the year, but thanks to a waning crescent moon that will set early in the evening, the shooting stars this year will appear even brighter.

This Sunday and Monday will be the best nights to catch the spectacular event. Plan to go out on the night of December 13-14 or December 14-15, ideally around 2 o’clock in the morning. If you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you’ll have the best view of the Geminids, but they’ll also be visible in the Southern hemisphere.

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This is one of the rewarding meteor showers to catch, not only because of the brightness of Geminid meteors, but also because of their frequency. During the peak times, 120 meteors hit Earth’s atmosphere every hour. That’s about one every 30 seconds!

The meteor shower is named Geminid because the pebbles and dust that make up the meteors first originated 34 light years from Earth in the Gemini constellation of the Milky Way Galaxy.

As the sun sets, Gemini will appear at the Eastern horizon and slowly climb in the sky. Later in the evening, the meteors will be raining down on Earth from above us, but it’s early in the evening that you’ll have the chance to catch an earthgrazer. Earthgrazers are uncommon and utterly unforgettable. Because they hit Earth’s atmosphere at such a low angle, they travel horizontally across the sky and appear to move much slower than other meteors.

If you’re lucky, you may also catch a fireball. Unlike most meteors that completely burn up in the atmosphere, a fireball will hit the ground leaving a small rock or pebble known as a meteorite. Fireballs are much brighter than other meteors and can even be seen during the day. The Geminids are particularly well-known for their fireballs which range in color from yellow or orange to intense green.

Here are some tips for catching the event:

  • Try to visit a rural area, away from the light pollution of any cities.

  • Dress for the cold weather. Don’t let cold fingers be the reason you missed the Geminids!

  • Leave your telescope and binoculars at home. Meteors can appear at any point in the vast sky so it doesn’t make sense to focus on one spot — chances are you’ll miss them entirely. Instead, scan the sky with your bare eyes and watch for any movement in the heavens.

  • Try not to check your phone or digital watch as the light will disrupt your night vision.

Let us know if you see any great meteors this weekend!

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