Stargazers are in for a treat this week as the Geminids meteor shower will be active from December 14 to December 17. Those in the northern hemisphere can see the Geminids meteor shower at about 30 to 40 meteors per hour. This year the bright moon may not provide the best conditions for viewing the shower, but after 2 am, if skies are clear we can see a good show.
Geminids can travel at a speed of about 35 km/s. This is over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet. It gets the name ‘Geminids’ as the shower appears to radiate from a point in the Gemini
After the Geminids meteor shower, we can also see the Ursids meteor shower from December 17 to December 26 with the peak showers on December 23.
What makes the Geminids meteor shower unique?
Usually, meteor showers are caused when Earth passes through rock pieces and ice left by comets. For example, Orionids meteor shower and Ursids meteor shower are associated with comet 1P/Halley and 8P/Tuttle comet respectively.
But the Geminids meteor shower is associated with an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. According to NASA, 3200 Phaethon measures 5.10 km in diameter and was discovered on Oct. 11, 1983, using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite. It is named after the Greek myth of Phaethon, son of the Sun God Helios.
How can an asteroid produce a meteor shower?
NASA says that there are four theories: one that Phaethon broke apart from another object and ejected meteoroids during the breakup; two that a collision with another object could have produced the debris and Earth travels through this debris every December.
The third theory assumes that Phaethon can be a dead comet and the fourth theory states that Phaethon is a rock comet. The parent body of Phaethon still remains a mystery.
How to watch the shower?
Move away from the city’s light pollution. Lie down on a safe field or terrace of a house. Arrive about 30 minutes early to the spot as your eyes need time to adjust to the dark. Avoid looking at your phone as it can ruin your night vision.
NASA will broadcast a live stream on its NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page. The shower is captured via a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.