Stargazers across the planet will witness a wondrous array of spectacular shooting stars illuminating the night sky this weekend. The mesmerizing cosmic extravaganza could be best observed under clear dark skies and relatively distant from city lights. The annual Geminid Meteor Shower takes its name from the constellation, “Gemini,” where the streaks appear to originate.
Designated the “King of Meteor Showers,” the Geminid Meteor Shower is set to brighten up the dark December night sky exhibiting a scintillating array of nearly 150 meteors per hour. According to NASA via ABC News, the event will peak on Sunday night moving into Monday morning.
The event is also known to exhibit some exceptional colors as they streak across the star-sprinkled sky. Apart from sparkling white streaks, sky-watchers have previously described having sighted streaks appearing yellow, green, as well as blue. The color of light that the meteors appear to produce are based on their chemical composition. A host of chemicals in the meteors act and produce different colors as they burn up while penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere. In recent years, the showers have also intensified, possibly due to the gravitational influence of Jupiter and Saturn, leading to a shift of a much denser debris stream closer to the Earth.
According to experts, conditions are encouraging for this year’s Geminid shower to showcase its array of magnificently incandescent alien bodies. The best time to view the Geminids is when the “radiant,” or point at which the meteors originate, reaches its zenith above the night sky. Although skygazers from all around the world will be able to sight this incredible cosmic phenomenon, experts believe the shower is expected to predominantly light up the Northern Hemisphere.
When a meteor or meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere, the resistance of the air on the rock makes it blazing hot, leading to a bright streak commonly referred to as a “shooting star.” The streak is caused as a result of hot air as the hot meteor rockets through the atmosphere. When Earth encounters many meteoroids at once, it is known as a “meteor shower.” Several meteors appear to emerge at one point in the sky at a particular time of the year as the earth intermittently confronts a field of debris whilst orbiting the sun. Meteor showers are named after the constellation in which the “radiant,” or highest point, is located.
Most annual meteor showers ensue as the Earth wanders through the dusty debris left behind by nearby comets. However, scientists suspect Geminid meteors might actually constitute leftover debris from a known asteroid, Phaethon, a space rock that time and again crosses perilously close to the Earth. According to Mark Bailey, Director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, the asteroid has exhibited a rather recent pattern of discharging meteors.
“Unusually, the parent body for the Geminid meteors, namely Phaethon, currently appears to be an asteroid. However, its association with the Geminids tells us that it must once have been actively releasing meteoroids, perhaps as recently as hundreds or several thousands of years ago. Observations of the Geminids from around the world are beginning to help astronomers to understand how Phaethon and objects like it evolve over time.”
Gemini is one of the known constellations of the zodiac. It is among the 48 constellations identified and described by the eminent 2nd century AD astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Around the same time last year, similar Geminid fireworks had mesmerized stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, scientists at NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office are looking to closely observe the annual sky show to better grasp the origins of these magnificent meteors.
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