The Geminid meteor shower, which produces similar hourly meteor speeds as the Perseids in August, will be much better this year, thanks to the dark sky and the lack of a “shadowing” moon. In addition, geminids produce slower and more colorful meteors during the year, when low humidity often favors dry, clear nights and good visibility.
Over the next few nights, you may still see a stranded meteor or two Leonid bands in the night sky that appear as a flash of blue or white light. The result of the Leonids is when the debris left after comet Tempel-Tuttle, which sends around the sun every 33 years, burns in our outer atmosphere.
Most years include a meteor shower, but the show is known for its periodic “meteor storms.”
It was an apocryphal but true exposition that lasted several hours before disappearing with the breath of dawn. While a couple of impressive meteor bursts occurred in 1999 and 2001, no such prolific Leonid meteor storms have been predicted in our lifetime. Yet the Leonids occasionally produce fireballs or shooting stars brighter than the planet Venus. Every night this week, NASA’s All Sky Sky Fireball network has recorded numerous fireballs across the country.
Geminids, on the other hand, do not produce meteor storms, but are reliably among the best meteor showers of the year. Zenithal’s hourly rates, an idealized number that calculates how many meteors pass over a clear, unobstructed spot under a dark sky, are usually 75 to 125. In reality, this means you will probably notice 20 or 30 per hour under ideal conditions.
Geminid meteors are triggered by the 3200 Phaethon, a 3.6-mile-wide asteroid. Space-born pebbles, which are made of magnesium, sodium and iron-rich particles, chip at more than 37 miles per second. Their luminosity comes from the burning joints and the overheated cushion of air compressed before the meteor glows.
Make a note of your calendars for the night of December 13 if you plan to hunt for Gemini. For those who go outside, you will need a clear and dark place. Beaches, fields, farmland and other places away from light pollution are ideal.
When you watch a meteor shower, there is no place to look specifically. If you follow the tails of shooting stars, they will all converge at the “shining point” from which the meteors appear to emerge. However, the most visually impressive meteors will be detected at 90 degrees from the radiant light. It’s like enjoying fireworks – not looking at where they were fired, but rather where they will blind.