Sky watchers, get ready — the annual Gemini meteor shower, thought by many to be the best of the year, will peak overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning.
Every December, Earth passes through the debris of the “rock comet” 3200 Phaethon, thought to be a space rock left behind when a comet burned itself out. The gritty debris causes a meteor shower that, according to NASA, sometimes lasts more than two weeks.
According to NBC News, the meteor sightings have been steadily increasing over this the past few nights, and astronomers expect the rate of sightings by early Sunday morning to be as high as 120 per hour in areas with ideal viewing conditions. This year, though, the meteors have to compete with the last quarter of the moon, so most people will see less than that.
But the show should still be impressive, according to NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke.
“I’m looking forward to a good display,” he said.
Geminid meteors radiate from the constellation Gemini, shown in the sky map below, and hit the top of the Earth’s atmosphere traveling about 78,000 miles per hour. Although that sounds fast, it is actually slower than most meteor showers. The slower speeds produce leisurely and bright meteors, with many fireballs streaking across the night sky during the shower’s peak.
Cooke suggests that the best time to look for the Geminids is between midnight local time and sunrise on both Saturday and Sunday nights this weekend. Gemini can be located by looking toward the east, but for the best view, lie on your back or recline in a lounge chair and look high in the sky, not just at the radiant — Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky.
Since the moon rises around midnight, it is also a good idea to position yourself so that a building or other landmark will block some of the glare from the moon on the eastern horizon.
AccuWeather predicts the best viewing conditions in the U.S. will be across the southeast, with good conditions in the interior west and southern southwest as well. Approaching storms will create poor viewing conditions across the north, midwest, and the Pacific coast.
If you live in an area where the viewing conditions aren’t good, don’t worry, you can still see the show. NASA will be providing a live video feed of the meteor showers. There will also be a live web chat from 11 p.m. Saturday until 3 a.m. Sunday featuring Cooke and other astronomers to answer questions about the meteor shower.
In a related Inquisitr story, scientists are searching for the remnants of a meteor that exploded in the sky over Arizona earlier this week.