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Get Ready for the Geminid Meteor Showers in December

By Edited Nov 28, 2016 3 6
Geminids Meteor Shower in northern hemisphere
Credit: Asim Patel/Accessed on Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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.

How Did Geminids Get Its Name?

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 Geminid is one of the best meteor showings of the year and indicates it "never seems to disappoint" stargazers. [1]

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] In 2015 the agency updated its viewpoint and now refers to Geminids as debris from an  "extinct comet". [5]

What Does a Geminid Shower Look Like?

Germinids is typically a 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 see for enthusiasts who appreciate these types of cosmic events. Geminid meteors often take on a shade of white or 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.

Meteor falling
Credit: NASA/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meteor_falling_courtesy_NASA.gif

GIF description: "A fireball Geminid falling earthwards"

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.

Annual Geminids Appearance

Geminids usually starts getting the most active a few days into December and lasts until mid-month (typically around the 16th or 17th), usually peaking with stunning views a few days before the end of the (approximate) two week window. In most years, the peak occurs around December 13th or 14th.

One great thing about this meteor shower is that it typically has an early evening peak, which is a nice change from the usual middle-of-the-night and early dawn peaks that usually coincide with other meteor showers. This timing offers more people with the opportunity to see it before going to bed, even the kids may get a chance to see it.

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 of its appearance, stargazers may be able to see Geminds' ability to produce up to 120 meteors an hour.

Geminiden 2013
Credit: By AstroFloyd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image description on Wikimedia Commons: "The Geminids meteor shower during the maximum on 14 December 2013. The radiant of the swarm is easy to recognize, because the planet Jupiter is near." (description translated by Google Tranlsate)

More Fun Facts About Geminids

Want to know more about this meteor shower? Here are a few other fun facts:

  • Geminids is pretty reliable every year, making it easier for enthusiasts to plan to see it.
  • While you can see Geminids in the evenings, the later you stay up, the more likely a better show you'll see.
  • This meteor shower can be seen in both of Earth's hemispheres, but the northern half typically has a stronger showing than the southern one.
  • The space dust from Geminids outweighs other shower streams by "factors of 5 to 500", says NASA.
  • Phaethon's orbit around the sun brings it inside Mercury's orbit about every one and a half years. [5]
  • Some viewers have claimed to see other colors besides white inside Geminids, having said they have also spotted shades of yellow, blue and green.

As the years go by, Geminids seems to get stronger and stronger since its appearances first began being tracked in the 19th century.

Tips for Viewing Geminids

Being its a winter celestial shower, for many regions it's likely to get chilly, so it is a good idea to put on a warm jacket, pack a warm drink, and grab a blanket on your 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] Some experts suggest allowing yourself about 20 minutes for the eyes to adjust.

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, in some years it might be a little more difficult to see during times of bright or full moons.  However, if the right sky and weather conditions can be met, this shower is often spectacular year after year.

Related articles about other meteor showers:

Guide to the Orionids Meteor Showers (October showing)

Leonids Meteor Showers (November showing)

April Means It's Time for the Lyrids Meteor Shower

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Comments

Dec 25, 2014 8:35am
vicdillinger
Crap, I missed 'em! Thumbin', anyway.
Dec 26, 2014 4:54am
LeighGoessl
Thanks Vic! I planned on seeing this one, but ended up missing it.

It's kind of bright in my neighborhood, but I have spotted a few sailing by in previous showers. (One of these days I am going to find a nice dark spot, stay up late and spend the night watching)
Dec 28, 2014 9:11pm
quillensm
I wonder when it made its appearance in Africa?
Dec 30, 2014 3:35am
LeighGoessl
I thought I read the north was the same time window as US and Europe, not sure about the south. (I just found this link http://www.amsmeteors.org/2014/12/viewing-the-geminid-meteor-shower-in-2014/ which gives some information)
Dec 30, 2014 3:39am
shrawan440
Nice article!!
Dec 31, 2014 2:31am
LeighGoessl
Thanks so much Shrawan440, appreciate your comment
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Bibliography

  1. "Observing the Geminids." Meteor Showers Online . 16/11/2014 <Web >
  2. "Geminids." NASA. 16/11/2014 <Web >
  3. "Ten tips for watching the Geminid meteor shower." Earth Sky. 16/11/2014 <Web >
  4. "Rock Comet Sprouts a Tail ." NASA. 17/11/2014 <Web >
  5. "Five Fun Facts for the 2015 Geminid Meteor Shower." NASA. 07/12/2015. 28/11/2016 <Web >

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