The annual Geminid meteor shower, typically one of the best opportunities of the year for viewing shooting stars, heads into its most intense period of activity this weekend with the peak coming Tuesday night and continuing into the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday.
In some years, meteors during the Geminids can be observed at a rate of one per minute on peak nights. This year’s show figures to fall short because the moon will be more than half full, and moonless nights are best for viewing meteors. For that reason, the American Meteor Society recommends looking for Geminds before moonrise. The moon will rise Tuesday night at 9:38 p.m.
“Geminids seen during the early evening hours cannot penetrate deep into the atmosphere, therefore they last longer and create longer streaks in the sky,” according to a post on the AMS website. “These “Earth-grazers” are best seen as soon as it becomes dark.”
While most meteor showers are produced by comets, according to the AMS, the Geminids come from the 3200 Phaethon asteroid which orbits the sun annually, leaving behind dust that creates meteors when it hits the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Even though 3200 Phaethon is classified as an asteroid, it often acts like a comet by ejecting dust when it nears the sun,” according to the AMS. “The Earth is near the orbit of 3200 Phaethon during the first three weeks of December. It comes closest to the core of the orbit on Dec. 14 each year. This is the date most Geminid meteors are encountered and seen.”
There’s another notable celestial view worth taking in these days: Mars and Jupiter have been noticeably bright, clearly visible after sunset even before the stars come out. Jupiter, which made its closest approach to earth in 51 years last September, can be seen high in the southern sky at sunset and has been the brightest object in the night sky except for the moon. Mars is rising shortly before sunset and also is relatively bright.
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