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The Sky Tonight Update: Geminids Meteor Shower, Dec. 13-14 peak

The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17.

It peaks this year on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. The nearly full moon will block out many of the fainter meteors this year, but the Geminids are so bright and numerous that it could still be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight and the meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

The Geminid meteors radiate from near the star Castor in Gemini.

The Geminid meteors radiate from near the star Castor in Gemini.

To view the Geminid meteors you’ll need no special equipment.  All you need is a dark, open sky and maybe something to keep you warm.

As a general rule, the higher the constellation Gemini climbs into your sky, the more Geminid meteors you’re likely to see.

You can also count on Jupiter to keep you company on peak nights.  Jupiter will rise in the east at about the same time that the Geminid radiant climbs highest up for the night.





Why are they called the Geminids?

If you trace the paths of the Geminid meteors backward, they all seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini, hence the reason for the meteor shower’s name.

In fact, the radiant point of this meteor shower nearly coincides with the bright star Castor. However, the radiant point and the star Castor just happen to be a chance alignment, as Castor lies about 52 light-years away while these meteors burn up in the upper atmosphere, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

You don’t need to find the constellation Gemini to watch the Geminid meteor shower. These medium-speed meteors streak the nighttime in many different directions and in front of numerous age-old constellations. It’s even possible to see a Geminid meteor when looking directly away from the shower’s radiant point. However, if you trace the path of any Geminid meteor backward, it’ll lead you back to the constellation Gemini the Twins.

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