Are You Ready to View the Geminids Meteor Shower?

10 Dec 2015

OSR blog post

If you love meteor showers (and who doesn’t?) the annual Geminids show is gearing up to begin in a few short days, so grab those lawn chairs or winter jackets, depending on where you hail from, and get ready for a spectacular show!

Although, a few of the meteors from the Geminids are already making an appearance they will be at their peak on the nights of December 13th and 14th of this year (2015). Scientists are predicting approximately 100 of these zooming space rocks will be seen every hour, so it won’t take much to spot one. And the great thing is no telescope will be required. In fact, even the tiniest of debris (the size of a grain of sand) will light up the night sky as it burns up in our atmosphere.

“Over 100 meteors an hour visible in optimal conditions…”

Where Are They Coming From?

The meteors may appear to be coming from the Gemini constellation; however, they actually originate from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. This remarkable asteroid that measures about 3.17 miles in diameter (5.1 kilometers) and has a long dusty and debris-filled tail that Earth passes through each December. Scientists have known about this asteroid for about a decade, but what puzzles them is the amount of debris trailing it. Years ago, the Geminids meteor shower may have only produced about 20 meteor-flashes across the sky, but today we can see upwards of 100 per hour!

Why the Change?

There are a few theories on why 3200 Phaethon is changing. Bill Cooke from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office said in a statement in 2012;

“It’s probable that a crash with another space rock produced the dust, which stayed in space for several human lifetimes without going near Earth.”

This would lead into the theory that Jupiter’s gravity was slowly pushing the dust and debris into the path of Earth’s rotation until we are now at the point of encountering more and more of these meteors. Another theory suggests that as Phaethon gets close to the sun, the heat blasts particles off the asteroid, enough to cause a dust stream.
Regardless of why, the Geminids is going to be spectacular this year.

“Spend at least 30 minutes outside before seeking meteors…”

Get Ready for Optimal Viewing

One of the great things about viewing the Geminids is when they are active they can actually stretch for a 24-hour period and be visible in the early evening — great for children to view — around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m said NASA.

The best chances of course of seeing these flying meteors is to get away from any light pollution (so a dark area
unobstructed by buildings is a must).NASA also urges sky-watchers to have patience when seeking these burning balls and to also “spend at least 30 minutes outside before seeking meteors,” so your eyes can become accustomed to the night time light and also enough time to find the perfect viewing spot. They also suggest to face South as this is the approximate direction the showers originate from.

“People don’t have to worry about getting hit by falling Geminids…”

Chances of “Fall Out?”
When we see these burning balls of debris we may wonder if there’s a chance of impact or any danger of being hit by one; however, this shower cannot produce meteorites (rocks that make it to the ground). According to Cooke he states;
“That’s an illusion. It’s very rare, exceedingly rare, for a meteorite to land near an individual, and the Geminids won’t produce meteorites. They will not make it to the ground. People don’t have to worry about getting hit by falling Geminids.”

Well, that’s a relief! One thing that could happen though to spoil the show is Jupiter’s gravity may push the dust path too far out of Earth’s way, resulting in the meteors disappearing, but luckily, that isn’t expected to happen for quite some time.

Don’t let the Geminids meteor shower slip by without taking a peek at this fabulous and FREE show! It only happens once-a-year, so be sure to grab your family and friends and head out to take in what nature has to offer with these spectacular celestial wonders.