The Geminid meteor shower is in full peak Wednesday night — and you can be front and center.
The shower is expected to make its annual debut around 7 p.m. EST and, according to Space.com, the shower will peak at 10 p.m. EST with “rates as high as one or two meteors per minute.” NASA said that the most meteors visible will occur from midnight to 4 a.m. on Thursday (Dec 14).
A meteor is a rock that enters the Earth’s atmosphere in space. The “shooting star” effect we see is the resistance of the air on the rock. The streak isn’t the rock but the hot air instead. A meteor shower, then, is when many meteors enter the atmosphere. But you don’t need to worry about a crater falling in your backyard. Meteors are typically small. They can range in size from a dust particle to a boulder, but they are always small enough to burn in the atmosphere. One almost never strikes the Earth.
— Shern-Min Chow (@ShernMinKHOU) December 13, 2017
Meteors are named after the constellations they appear from. Geminids look as if they are coming from the Gemini constellation.
“The Geminids are active every December, when Earth passes through a massive trail of dusty debris shed by a weird, rocky object named 3200 Phaethon up close in mid-December, when it passes nearest to Earth since its discovery in 1983,” NASA wrote on its website.
This year, astronomers are planning to study Phaethon up closer.
“Phaethon’s nature is debated,” Cooke said. “It is either a near-Earth asteroid or an extinct comet, sometimes called a rock comet.”
It is predicted to be a perfect viewing night. The Geminids are supposed to shine brightly due to no moonlight obstruction — and that is actually good news for photographers. Dark skies will help when trying to capture the Instagram-perfect photograph. Apps, such as NightCap Camera, can help take the best moment with low light. Under meteor-mode, NightCap Camera takes hundreds of photos (but only saves ones with the meteor in it) to ensure it gets the shooting star.
But if you’re unable to make it outside or the sky isn’t clear enough, you can check out the NASA livestream from the Automated Lunar and meteor Observatory at Marshal Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which can be found here.
“With August’s Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year,” said Bill Cooke, who is part of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.
Seeing the meteors should be easy. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, meteors should appear all over the sky. Southern Hemisphere observers, though, will see fewer Geminids because the radiant will not climb high over the horizon. The next meteor shower is expected January 3 and 4 when the Quadrantids light up the sky.