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Mon, 11 Dec 2017

See the best meteor shower of the year

We are close to the peak of a meteor shower that many regard as the best of the year – the Geminids. So-called because their paths can be traced back to a point in the constellation of Gemini, these shooting stars can in fact appear anywhere in the sky.

A Geminid photographed by Robin ScagellWrap up warm against the winter cold and you may be rewarded with a splendid display with tens of bright meteors an hour being visible on the night of Wednesday–Thursday 13–14 December. The following night should be almost as good. This year is a good one for Geminid-watching because the Moon is a thin crescent and therefore its light will not interefere with the show.

Meteor activity began around 7 December and will continue until around 16 December. At it peak, the hourly rate of meteors that a single observer might expect to see under ideal conditions, with a clear, dark sky and the radiant overhead, is 120. In reality rates seen are not likely to be so high but the display is still said to be more reliable and bountiful than the popular Perseids in summer.

The Geminids' radiant – the point from which the meteors appear to come – rises over the horizon in the early evening so that meteors may be seen early on in the night. Rates will steadily grow as it gets higher in the sky. The meteoroid dust particles that produce the meteors as they enter the atmosphere are believed to have been strewn by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, which may really be a dead comet.

The SPA Meteor Section notes for the Geminids report that good rates can be seen for around two nights around their peak, but drop away very quickly after the maximum. The best observed rates are usually between 01h and 02h UT, though moonlight may hide some of the fainter meteors at that time.

The image of a Geminid meteor above is copyright Robin Scagell.


Added by: Robin Scagell