With all the magical light shows that winter brings, it’s easy to forget that the sky provides some stunning celestial light shows of its own.
Aspiring astronomers will know that the blazing fireballs of the Leonid Meteor Shower last month were only a warm-up to an even more incredible meteor shower every December – the Geminid Meteor Shower – which is reaching its peak tonight.
Described by seasky.org as “the king of the meteor showers”, the Geminids is the most active and reliable shower of the year and tends to favor Earth’s Northern Hemisphere.
Named after the constellation Gemini, The Geminid Meteor Shower is comprised of debris left behind by Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The asteroid is renowned for its quantity of debris and the prismatic meteors it produces.
Most years the Geminids Meteor Shower produces up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak which will occur after dusk and before moonrise tonight. The optimum time to look out for the meteors will be between 10 pm and 2 am when the skies are darkest while the Geminids reach their peak.
Having begun on Sunday, December 4th the hourly number of meteors darting across the sky has been growing over the last week but while the Geminid Meteor Shower will continue through Saturday, December 17, the number of meteors visible per hour will begin decreasing dramatically from tomorrow.
The moon and light pollution play a significant role in observing the meteors. Unfortunately, according to the American Meteor Society, the moon will be 72% full this evening which could hinder chances of seeing the meteors clearly.
As with any meteor shower, the best place they are seen is as far away from cities at an open secluded viewing spot where pollution and artificial lights don’t interfere with visibility. This is tricky given the current circumstances and the cold weather but if you can get out of urban areas, you could be in for a real treat!
The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so though it’s tempting to use binoculars or a telescope, it can be best to allow your eyes around 20 minutes to get used to the dark and then just peering up at the open sky while avoiding the use of phones or screens so your eyes can better adjust.
Of course dress for the weather, with the meteors peaking at night wrapping up in a blanket, hat, gloves and other equipment will be needed as meteor watching can be a waiting game.
Any photographers out there? According to NASA, your best bet is to use a camera with manual focus on a tripod with a shutter release cable or built-in timer, fitted with a wide-angle lens.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]