The Geminid Meteor shower, one of the year’s more spectacular celestial shows, is set to peak tonight – throwing down between 100-120 shooting stars per hour.
The whole thing is a bit of an enigma, since the Geminids actually come from an asteroid instead of the traditional “dust from a comet’s tail.” American astronomer Fred Whipple made the discovery in 1983 after noticing that asteroid 3200 Phaethon followed a similar orbit to that of the Geminid stream.
“The Geminids are a mystery,” Brian Marsden of Harvard’s Minor Planet Center told Space.com. “Most meteoroids that we know of come from comets. They are set free by solar vaporization of [cometary] ice. Geminid meteoroids, on the other hand, appear to come from 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid. We’re not sure why an asteroid should have a debris trail, but this one does.”
Want to try and snag a glimpse of some shooting stars? The show is best viewed between 9pm on Friday and just before dawn on Saturday – with the “magic hour” starting at 4am. Just bundle up and look straight up – as Geminids will be streaking all over the night sky.
“The best thing to do to observe meteors is to lie flat on your back and look straight up,” Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office said. “You don’t want to look at Gemini, you just want to look straight up and take in as much of the sky as possible because meteors can appear anywhere in the sky and the more sky you see, the better you chance of seeing a meteor.”
Stay warm out there – and have fun! For those stuck inside, NASA will provide a livestream of the event online.
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