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Make a Wish! How to See the Geminid Meteor Shower

Make a Wish! How to See the Geminid Meteor Shower

In this long exposure, a meteor streaks across a dusty blue star-spangled sky. Along the horizon, the bright lights of the Baikonur Cosmodrome glow yellow, illuminating buildings and a launch pad. Credit: NASA/Joel KowskyALT

A Geminid meteor streaks across the sky as the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Make a Wish! How to See the Geminid Meteor Shower

Every December, we have a chance to see one of our favorite meteor showers – the Geminids. To help you prepare, we’ve answered some of your most commonly asked questions. Happy viewing, stargazers!

23 radar images of near-Earth object 3200 Phaethon are shown in four rows against a black background. Text in the lower right corner reads, “3200 Phaethon, 75 m x 0.95 Hz, 17 Dec 2017, Arecibo/NASA/NSF.” Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSFALT

These radar images of near-Earth object 3200 Phaethon were generated by astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory on Dec. 17, 2017. Observations of Phaethon were conducted at Arecibo from Dec. 15 through 19, 2017. At time of closest approach on Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST, 2300 UTC), the asteroid was about 6.4 million miles (10.3 million kilometers) away, or about 27 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. Credit: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

What are the Geminids?

The Geminids are caused by debris from a celestial object known as 3200 Phaethon striking Earth’s atmosphere. Phaethon’s origin is the subject of some debate. Some astronomers consider it to be an extinct comet, based on observations showing some small amount of material leaving its surface. Others argue that it has to be an asteroid because of its orbit and its similarity to the main-belt asteroid Pallas.

An illustration of the night sky with the constellations Cancer and Gemini overlaid show the radiants of 388 meteors with speeds of 35 km/s, depicted by small bright yellow dots, observed by the NASA Fireball Network in December 2020. Credit: NASAALT

All meteors appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.” The graphic shows the radiants of 388 meteors with speeds of 35 km/s observed by the NASA Fireball Network in December 2020. All the radiants are in Gemini, which means they belong to the Geminid shower. Credit: NASA

Why are they called the Geminids?

All meteors associated with a shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.”

A Geminid meteor, streaking across the sky as a bright white line, is visible in a black and white image. Credit: NASAALT

A Geminid streaks across the sky in this photo from December 2019. Credit: NASA

When is the best time to view them?

The Geminid meteor shower is active for much of December, but the peak will occur during the night of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14, 2023. Meteor rates in rural areas can be upwards of one per minute this year with minimal moonlight to interfere.

What do I need to see them?

As with all meteor showers, all you need is a clear sky, darkness, a bit of patience, and perhaps warm outerwear and blankets for this one. You don’t need to look in any particular direction, as meteors can generally be seen all over the sky. If you want to take photographs, check out these helpful tips.

An infographic displaying the altitude range of the Geminid meteors. Data points are displayed as white and orange dots, with white dots marking “begin height” and orange dots marking “end height.” Text on the infographic notes: “Geminids start burning up 63 miles above your head. They very rarely make it to 25 miles altitude.” A note in the lower right corner says “2019 NASA meteor camera data (283 Geminids).” Credit: NASAALT

An infographic based on 2019’s meteor camera data for the Geminids. Credit: NASA

Do you have any advice to help me see the Geminids better?

Find the darkest place you can and give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark. Avoid looking at your cell phone, as it will disrupt your night vision. Lie flat on your back and look straight up, taking in as much sky as possible.

A Geminid meteor, streaking across the sky as a short bright white line, is visible within a circular field of view. Credit: NASAALT

A Geminid streaks across the sky in this photo from December 2011. Credit: NASA

What will the meteors look like?

According to Bill Cooke, lead for the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, “Most meteors appear to be colorless or white, however the Geminids appear with a greenish hue. They’re pretty meteors!” Depending on the meteor’s chemical composition, the meteor will emit different colors when burned in the Earth’s atmosphere. Oxygen, magnesium, and nickel usually produce green.

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