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Friday, December 13, 2013

Geminid Meteor Shower to Peak Tonight

The Geminid meteor showers are at their peak, and astronomers are predicting that the annual event will be the most spectacular of the year, with the light show peaking tonight and early tomorrow morning. Between 100 and 120 meteors are expected every hour, though we're expecting increasing cloudiness and cold weather with low temperatures in the teens and lower 20s.

Also, a bright, gibbous Moon may obscure the meteor shower where skies are clear to partly cloudy. The shower began on Thursday and will continue through Monday, though the early hours of Saturday morning should be the best time to catch a glimpse of the meteors. The meteors should be fairly easily seen from any portion of the night sky, though star gazers should wait for at least an hour to catch a glimpse of the event as the shower will appear in bursts.

The Geminids are a reliable and prolific shower, offering perhaps 50 meteors per hour in a dark sky. This year, NASA experts are suggesting the rates might be as high as 100 meteors per hour at the peak. However, you'll need to get away from city lights and find a wide open view of the sky. City, state and national parks are good, and you might be able to camp and make a night of it. Simply enjoy the comfort of a reclining lawn chair, the warmth of a sleeping bag, a thermos with a hot drink, and the company of family and friends, if they're willing to stay up and battle the cold!

The Geminids rank as one of the best meteor showers for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. You can also see this shower from the tropical and subtropical regions in the Southern Hemisphere. Farther south, the radiant of the Geminid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky, so the meteors are not as prevalent at temperate southerly latitudes.

This meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini the Twins. If you trace the paths of all the Geminid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from the certain point in front of Gemini. This point is called the meteor shower radiant, and is located near the star Castor.

Most meteor showers take place when our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet. The comet debris plunges into Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the vaporizing particles fill the night with meteors. But the Geminid meteor shower appears to be an oddity. The shower’s parent body appears to be a near-Earth asteroid, rather than a comet. Astronomers have named this object 3200 Phaethon.