Geminids – the best meteor shower of the year
|Main Activity Dates||Dec 7 – 16|
|Peak Rates||Dec 14d 06h UT|
|Best Observed Rates||Dec 13d 22h to Dec 14d 05h UT|
|Visibility each night (UK)||Visible all night|
|Moonlight issues at Maximum||Minor – Last Quarter is on Dec 10|
One shower dominates meteor observing in December and that is the Geminids which, at their peak, produce higher observed rates than do the Perseids of August. Most of the Geminid activity occurs between Dec 7 and Dec 16, although some outliers can be detected as early as Dec 4 and as late as Dec 17.
Observing the Geminids does however pose the challenges of enduring the cold December nights and of a (usually) lower chance of clear skies than for the Perseids. In some ways the Geminids are like the Perseids, being rich in bright meteors. In other ways they are different, with very few Geminids leaving persistent trains – a consequence of the Geminids are more robust particles derived from asteroid 3200 Phaethon whereas the Perseids are more fragile icy material derived from comet Swift-Tuttle.
Good Geminid rates can be seen for around two nights around their peak, but drop away very quickly after the maximum. The Geminids are observable throughout the night, with the best observed rates usually between 01h and 03h UT, when the radiant is highest in the sky. The 2017 peak is due late in the night of Dec 13-14 (Wed-Thurs), most likely within and hour or two of 06h UT. The peak is quite broad, however, and so observed rates should be rather good from late evening onwards on Dec 13 (despite this being around 8 hours ahead of the predicted peak) and will probably also be quite good during Dec 12-13 (Tue-Wed). By the night of Dec 14-15, however, they are likely to have dropped off markedly.
Given the unreliable December weather, however, it is best to make use of any clear sky rather than simply focus on the maximum night.
The good news is that moonlight will not be an issue in 2017. Last Quarter occurs on Dec 10 and so by the night of maximum the Moon will only be a thin crescent Moon, rising very late in the night.
Below is a chart showing the location of the Geminid radiant: