The annual Geminid Meteor Shower can be seen each year, between the 7th and 17th of December.
When is the best time to see it
It's possible to see Geminid meteors between the 7th and 17th of December, with the peak expected to be on 13/14th of December.
Check out the Geminid Meteor Shower during December!
They start relatively sparsly in the early evening night sky, but increase in their numbers as the night goes on towards dawn.
Although it's best viewed from the northern hemisphere, you can still view it from the southern hemisphere.
How do I see the Geminids
Although the radiant (the point in the sky the meteors appear to come from) is near Castor, in the Gemini constellation, meteors can appear anywhere in the night sky.
As Gemini rises in the north east, you could be facing south west and still have the same chance of seeing a meteor.
The peak will be around 2am (wherever you are in the world), when Gemini is highest in the night sky.
The video below shows Gemini, and focuses on the radiant of the Geminids, as it crosses the sky:
The fantastic thing about meteor showers is you don't need any special equipment to see them - they are entirely visible to the unaided eye. A couple of things to note however:
- Your eyes take around 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness - so don't go out for 5 minutes, see nothing and give up. When your eyes do adjust, you'll see far more of the night sky than you did when you first went out.
- Stay warm - if you're going to be sitting outside in December, rather than look from the comfort of your home - take a sleeping bag, or heavy cover to put over you while you sit/lie/stand.
- Be patient. Meteors tend to be like buses - you see none for ages, then loads come along at once!
Why are they called the Geminids
As mentioned above, if you were to trace the meteors path back to a point in the sky, they would appear to come from the constellation of Gemini - or to be specific, just next to Castor, one of the stars in the constellation. Most of the meteor showers are named in this way.
Click the links below to read more about some other meteor showers:
What causes a meteor shower
The Geminids are caused by 3200 Phaethon which is thought to be a Palladian asteroid with a "rock comet" orbit (see the video below for an explanation of a Rock Comet):
The Geminids and the Quadrantids are the only meteor showers originating from an asteroid, as opposed to the usual comets.
The meteors are caused when the Earth passes through debris which came from the asteroid as it approached the Sun. They are simply pieces of dust or small pieces of rock that burn up when they and our atmosphere collide.
This debris crashes into our atmosphere at around 130,000 km per hour, and that's what you're seeing when you spot a meteor streaking across the sky!
How big is 3200 Phaethon
This object is only 3 miles wide (around 5 km), and was discovered very recently in 1983.
When this asteroid orbits our Sun at it's furthest away point (the aphelion), it is 2.4 AU from the Sun. At it's closest (the Perihelion) it's a mere 0.14 AU from the Sun. To put that into perspective, 1 AU is the average distance of the Earth to the Sun. So at it's closest to the Sun, it gets nearer to it than Mercury (0.3 to 0.46 AU from the Sun), our inner most planet in the solar system.
To sum up
So, if you find yourself outside during the night or early morning, especially around 13/14/15th of December, have a look up - you may very well spot a few meteors!