Get Ready to Observe the Geminids Meteor Shower
Image Credit: Asim Patel

The Geminids are a reliably beautiful annual meteor shower - barring years where a bright Moon interferes with viewing - and this year they peak the evening of December 13 through the morning of the 14th. The Geminids get their chance to truly shine after a waxing crescent Moon sets around 10:30 pm on the 13th, leaving the skies free from its bright interference.

Observers can expect some of the highest meteor counts around 2:00 am, when their radiant, or origin, in the constellation Gemini is highest in the sky. Seasoned meteor shower observers, many of whom count the number spotted per hour, often catch over 100 Geminid meteors per hour under ideal conditions. You’ll spot quite a few meteors by avoiding bad weather and light pollution if you can, and of course make sure to bundle up and take frequent warming breaks.

animated radar image of 3200 phaeton
Animated series of radar images of 3200 Phaeton. Image Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

The Geminids parent body is unusual compared to most meteor showers, which generally spring from icy comets; they originate from a “rock comet" dubbed asteroid 3200 Phaethon, a Near-Earth Object (NEO) only fairly recently discovered, in 1983. This dusty asteroid experiences faint outbursts of fine particles of rock instead of ice and its unusual nature leads many astronomers to believe ti may be an extinct or dormant remnant of a once-active comet. 

illustration of the radiant of the Geminid meteor shower
Image of the Geminid radiant from the NASA/JPL What's Up for December 2018 video

If you want to try to spot some meteors, bundle up, as it's getting chilly for most folks in the Northern Hemisphere. Get to a dark spot,bring extra blankets to stay warm, and let your eyes adjust to the dark sky. A cozy lounge chair makes for a great seat, as does simply lying on your back on a blanket, eyes scanning the whole sky. If your weather is bad of you can't geta way from light pollution, you can also check out the meteor shower via NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network of cameras.

You can find more Geminid observing tips from EarthSky's detailed guide and on JPL's What's Up for December 2018 stargazing video. NASA also has a fast facts page with more details on the Geminids. The Night Sky Network has a handout that you may find useful for your meteor watching party: Heads Up: It's a Meteor Shower Handout!

Last Updated: December 1, 2018
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