When it comes to celestial light shows, it would seem that 2018 has saved the best for last.
With our best annual meteor shower yet to unfold, it looks like the year is ending in style. As an added bonus, the brightest comet of 2018 will be making a very close approach to our planet later this month — so get ready for some splendid views of the sky in December.
The 2018 Geminid Meteor Shower
Every year, sky watchers witness a host of dazzling meteor showers — two of which particularly stand out. These are the Perseids and the Geminids, the best and richest meteor showers of the entire year, according to Sky & Telescope.
The Perseid meteor shower graced us with its presence in mid-August; in mid-December, it’s time for the Geminid meteor shower to light up the sky.
The 2018 Geminid meteor shower will be treating us to a truly fantastic display, says Jane Houston Jones of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. While this year’s Perseids rained down at rates of up to 70 meteors per hour, as the Inquisitr reported at the time, the Geminids are set to offer a breathtaking view of close to 120 shooting stars per hour on their peak night.
What’s up this December?— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) December 1, 2018
See the #Geminid meteor shower. Suggested equipment? A warm blanket, a comfy chair and your eyes. Watch the video to plan your sky-gazing bliss, then help us bid a fond farewell to a familiar voice. ▼ pic.twitter.com/7EpXCuPNwH
Named after the bright constellation of Gemini (“The Twins”) from which they seem to radiate, the Geminids are active from December 4 until December 17. The meteor shower peaks on the morning of December 14, at 7:30 a.m. EST.
“The peak lasts for a full 24 hours, meaning meteor watchers around the globe will get to see this spectacle,” says Houston Jones. “Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark sky location but only after the first quarter moon sets around midnight your local time.”
This stunning meteor shower originates from asteroid 3200 Phaethon — a blue, 3.1-mile-wide space rock that behaves more like a comet than an asteroid, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
In fact, the Geminids are one of only two meteor showers produced by an asteroid, notes Space Facts. The asteroid orbits the sun every 1.4 years and is believed to have collided with another object sometime in its distant past, explains Space. That violent encounter has left behind a trail of debris that interacts with Earth’s upper atmosphere each year and burns up in the process, streaking across the sky as shooting stars.
Two days after running through the cosmic debris of blue asteroid 3200 Phaethon, Earth has a date with a green comet — 46P/Wirtanen.
As the Inquisitr recently reported, this is no ordinary comet, but a hyperactive wisp of a cometary body that zips past our planet once every 5.4 years. This year’s visit will bring it closer to Earth than it’s been in a long while. Moreover, star gazers will get to see the comet shine brighter than it has in its entire history.
Meet 2018's brightest comet. ☄️ You need binoculars or a telescope to see Comet 46P/Wirtanen ???? - and a dark sky. Will it reach visibility to the eye alone? Here's what we know so far. Read more: https://t.co/mtmSN0AgBw ????— EarthSky (@earthskyscience) November 28, 2018
???? : Pablo Goffard in Valle del Elqui, Coquimbo, Chile pic.twitter.com/rPcSW7Up3l
According to EarthSky, comet 46P/Wirtanen will make a close flyby of the sun on December 12. A few days later, on December 16, the green comet will swing by Earth, coming in within just only 7.2 million miles of our planet. That’s about 30 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
The comet is expected to make a spectacular appearance as it should reach magnitudes between 3 and 7.5, says Houston Jones. This is the most luminous it’s ever been or is predicted to become in all future flybys of our planet — as well as the brightest appearance of a comet in the entire year.
The great news is that comet 46P/Wirtanen should be visible to the naked eye, so prepare to be amazed and bundle up for a memorable night under the starry sky.