December is when the annual Geminid meteor showers make their appearance. In recent years Geminids has had a terrific showing in the United States due to what has been described as "inky" black skies, allowing the meteors to really stand out. This is a shower that is typically able to be seen from anywhere on the globe.
The Geminid showers is named after the constellation Gemini the Twins, as the meteor showers appears to emit from Gemini's location in the universe's sky. Meteor Showers Online notes Geminids is one of the best meteor showings of the year and indicates it "never seems to disappoint" stargazers. 1
A typically bright meteor display that stretches over a nice span of time (it is typically described to last for approximately two weeks on average), Geminids are considered a must for enthusiasts who appreciate these types of cosmic events. Geminid meteors often take on a shade of yellow as they rapidly dart across the sky. They are also known to shoot out fireballs, these are flashes that last longer than an average meteor streak.
Most showers originate from a comet, however, less is known about Geminids. Earthsky notes the "parent of the Geminid meteor shower is a mysterious body named 3200 Phaethon." NASA confirms this description, but elaborates in describing it as originating from an asteroid or potential "rock comet".2
Geminids had been more carefully tracked since the late 19th Century (when it first appeared) and into the 20th Century. Today, in the 21st Century, a lot more is known about these spectacular winter meteor showers and its habits. Due to this, people interested in these types of celestial events can have a better idea of when to spot nature's beautiful displays in the sky.
2014 Geminids Appearance
Geminids will be active from Dec. 4 until Dec. 17. According to NASA, the Geminids' peak will be on the evenings of Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, starting at about 9 to 10 p.m. and lasting until the early morning. An early evening peak is nice change from the usual middle-of-the-night and early dawn peaks that usually coincide with other meteor showers, providing more people with the opportunity to see it before going to bed.
Early on in its discovery, an estimated 10-20 meteors could be seen per hour, however, over time that number has expanded. In 2012 during its peak (the same time frame of the month) Geminids was anticipated to shoot about 50-80 meteors per hour. NASA notes that during the peak days, stargazers may be able to see Geminds' ability to produce up to 120 meteors an hour.
Tips for Viewing
With any other celestial shower, it is a good idea to put on a warm jacket, pack a warm drink, and grab a blanket on the way out to increase your comfort as you lay underneath the skies. Also bring some patience, as it will take time for your eyes to acclimate and it is common for the meteors to be sporadic. 3
Generally, the best ways to view a meteor shower is find darker skies, and move away from city lights if possible. The more isolated of an area you can find, the better. This is because there will be no obstructions of building lights, car headlights or other interferences. Many experts suggest to stargazers to recline or position themselves so the horizon is at the edge of peripheral vision.
The Geminids occur every December. Although, this year it might be a little more difficult than it has been in recent years due to the brighter moon occurring this year during mid-month, making Geminids a little more difficult to see. For 2014, it is recommended to watch before midnight before the moon rises.4 If the right sky and weather conditions can be met, this shower can be spectacular.
Guide to the Orionids Meteor Showers (October)
Leonids Meteor Showers (November)