Clear skies. No moon. The stage is set for a magnificent show tonight, and it comes in the form of the Geminid meteor shower. Free viewings. No tickets required. Jackets recommended.
As you stare up at space, gazing at the glory, you may ask, what is this sublime sight, scattering and sparkling in the pre-solstice sky? Before the skies light up, allow the information below to provide some additional illumination this December 13.
Who: The Geminids, named for the constellation that is Gemini. In a Washington Post article, Alan Roberts of Sky & Telescope magazine says Geminid particles move at 22 miles per second. The Geminids may also be joined by a new, currently unnamed meteor shower. Astronomers will wait tonight to see if the shower is real, before formally identifying it.
What: The Geminids are unique, the only shower with what appears to be an asteroidal origin. What you’ll be seeing tonight aren’t stars, but what are mostly likely remnants of an asteroid, which burn when they meet the Earth’s atmosphere.
The key phrase here, however, is “most likely.” According to NASA, the Geminids parent body is 3200 Phaethon, and a mystery to scientists. The 98 pound 3200 Phaethon doesn’t shed enough dusty debris to truly explain the Geminids. As NASA astronomer Bill Cooke says, “The Geminids are my favorite, because they defy explanation.”
Where: Sky gazers around the world tonight will be able to witness the spectacle. The Geminid peak period began this Thursday morning and is expected to continue until December 15. The shower is of course best seen away from city lights. You can also watch online. A live Ustream feed of the Geminid shower will be embedded, along with a NASA chat here, from 11pm–3am.
When: Viewers can begin to watch at 10pm, though according to Phil Plait at Slate, the optimal time is after midnight. This is when the part of the Earth you’re standing on will be facing toward the meteors.
Why: This is the final meteor shower of the year, and expected to be spectacular. StarDate calls the Geminids one of the most “reliable” showers of the year, giving you a great chance to catch some wonderful sights. More than that, however, this is as good an impetus as any to head outside, stand in the dark December air, and be reminded of all we often forget.