How to watch tonight’s peak of the Geminid meteor shower

The night sky will be lit up tonight with the bright yellow streaks of what NASA calls “one of the best and most reliable meteor showers” of the year.

The Geminid meteor shower occurs every year for several weeks. This year it started on November 19, but it’s not expected to peak until tonight and Wednesday with around 120 meteors streaking through space every hour in “one of the major meteor showers of the year,” according to NASA.

Here’s everything you need to know for the perfect evening under the stars – and the rocks.

What is that?

The iconic Geminid meteor shower takes its name from its location. The meteors appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, easily identified by its two most prominent stars, Castor and Pollux, which are often identified as the “heads” of the Gemini twins referenced in Greek mythology.

But it is important to note that the constellation itself is not the source of the meteors. Instead, they come from asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which has an elliptical “comet-like” orbit around the sun every 1.4 years. From this asteroid, the flying rocks move at 78,000 miles per hour, according to NASA, more than 40 times faster than a speeding bullet. But don’t worry about getting hit by them, as they tend to start burning about 100 km above your head.

An infographic based on 2019 meteor camera data for the Geminids. / Credit: NASA

How to watch

While peak activity will show 120 meteors flying through space, that full number is only visible under “perfect conditions,” NASA said. The shower is expected to start Tuesday evening and last until dawn, with best viewing during the night and before dawn.

The predicted peak may be more challenging for those with early sunrises, as EarthSky predicts it to occur around 8 a.m. EST Wednesday.

The best way to see it all unfold is to find a spot outside, away from the lights.

“Lie flat on your back with your feet facing south and look up, admiring as much of the sky as possible,” says NASA. “After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adjust and you’ll start seeing meteors. Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you’ll have plenty of time to catch a glimpse.”

What to expect

Many people preparing to watch tonight’s meteor shower will not be able to see its full magnitude. The moon is currently in a waning gibbous phase, NASA said, which will make it harder for people in the northern hemisphere to see most of the shower. As such, it’s likely that only 30-40 visible meteors will be seen each hour, depending on sky conditions.

But according to EarthSky, “all is not lost” – the moon won’t finish rising until around midnight, providing more opportunities to see the shower unfold.

“Geminids are so bright, it should always be a good sight,” NASA said earlier this month.

To help make the most of the meteor shower, NASA’s Bill Cooke suggests sitting in the shade of a house or tree with a view of the open sky to help shield the view of the moonlight. People are also recommended to avoid looking at the constellation Gemini, where the shower gets its name, because the meteors themselves have “very short tails and are easily missed”, NASA said.

“However, tracing a meteor back to the constellation Gemini can determine if you’ve caught a Geminid,” the agency added.

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