One of the year's best meteor showers peaks this weekend. Here's how to watch, clouds permitting
Grab a scarf and some gloves and prepare to watch one of the year's best meteor showers. The Geminids peak this Friday, December 13, marking the final meteor shower of the decade.
What are the Geminids?
Unlike most meteor showers, the origin of the Geminids stems from an asteroid rather than a comet. The Geminid meteor shower occurs every year when the asteroid 3200 Phaethon — named after the Greek myth of Phaëthon, son of the sun god Helio — passes by the sun, leaving behind a dusty trail for Earth to pass through.
According to NASA, it's considered "one of the best and most reliable annual meteor showers."
The Geminids first appeared in the mid-1800s, but were not exciting or noteworthy at the time, only producing about 10-20 meteors per hour. Now, 120 bright and fast yellow meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions.
The Geminids appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, the "Twins." However, the constellation is not the source of the meteors, and not the only point viewers can look to when searching for them.
When and where to watch the Geminids
The Geminids can be seen at night or early morning across the globe, but are strongest in the Northern Hemisphere. The shower is active and impressive all week, but will peak the night of Friday, December 13 into the morning of Saturday, December 14.
Unfortunately, December's full moon, also known as the Cold Moon, occurs just one night prior to the meteor shower, which means visibility will be more difficult than usual. The moonlight will overpower some of the fainter meteor trails, but stronger ones should still be visible.
According to the American Meteor Society (AMS), about 20 Geminid meteors will be visible per hour, compared the 60 or more that could be seen on a night with a less full moon.
But the dependable shower will definitely still be worth viewing. "Since most of the meteors you will see under such conditions will be bright, they will be more colorful and impressive than usual," AMS said.
For best viewing, allow your eyes about thirty minutes to adjust to the darkness after going outside. Geminid meteors can be seen in any part of the sky, so the direction you face will not change your experience of the shower.
Lie back in a lounge chair, away from heavy light pollution, and watch the sky for at least an hour — according to AMS, meteor activity waxes and wanes throughout the night. Be patient, and don't forget your blanket!