WASHINGTON, December 13, 2104 – If the sky is clear tonight, head outside to catch one of the best meteor showers of the year, The Geminids, which gathers its name from what is perceived as its starting point, the Gemini Constellation. The Geminid showers occur every year in the first few weeks of December and is one of the best meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere, reliably offering 50 or more meteors per hour at its peak and will be at their best on the night of Dec. 13 and the early morning of the 14th, peaking at around 2:00 a.m. local time.
If you are under cloud cover, you can also watch the live show online from The Slooh Community Observatory starting on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. PST/8:00 p.m. EST.
As with the Leonid meteor shower in November, Slooh will be broadcasting the virtual sounds of meteors as they travel through the atmosphere. On that journey, the meteors strip atoms of their electrons creating a trail of ionized particles. This creates radio signals that bounce back as eerie sounds of space.
The Geminids were first document in the early 19th century and are the result of the Earth moving through the path of debris left by a comet, a 3-mile-wide asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaeton. When 3200 Phaeton was discovered in 1983, it looked like any other asteroid however NASA’s STEREO spacecraft has recently revealed that 3200 Phaeton has a tail like a comet.
It’s now called a rock comet—yet another in-between object that seems to be part asteroid, part comet.
- Get as far away as you can from city lights. The higher the elevation, the better. Give your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the dark.
- Even though Geminid meteors are traced back to the constellation Gemini, they can pop up anywhere in the sky. The best way to watch is to look up from a lounge chair into a wide-open sky. There’s no need to use a telescope or binoculars, unless you want to take in other sights in the sky.
- Because the moon rises in the east around midnight, you might consider positioning yourself with a building or other obstacle that can screen out the glare.
- It’s not a bad idea to bring snacks and a hot drink to keep up your energy.
- If you don’t already have a favorite meteor-watching spot, the Clear Sky Chart can show you locales that are expected to have good viewing conditions. You can also check with your local astronomy club.
- NASA’s Fluxtimator applet provides predictions of the expected meteor rate, based on your locale as well as sky conditions and time of night. Make sure that your Java software and security settings are up to date, and that you enter the correct parameters into the applet.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where the nation’s journey to space began more than a half-century ago, will also be live streaming the meteors:
Communities will also be conducting an interactive chat so that you can report the activity in your area to other night sky watchers.