Geminid meteor shower set to light up the night sky (Picture: PA)
Nighttime skywatchers can expect a celestial spectacle of shooting stars on Wednesday evening, as Earth passes through a cloud of cometary dust.
The Geminid meteor shower, which returns every December, is expected to peak sometime on the night of December 14 and will be visible until the early morning of December 15.
Up to 150 meteors should be visible per hour, although the bright moon may make detection more difficult.
The current Met Office forecast calls for conditions on Wednesday evening to be cloudy until midnight and partly cloudy thereafter.
Anna Gammon-Ross, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, told the PA news agency: ‘The peak here in the UK will be on the night of December 14-15, when up to 150 meteors will be visible per hour.”
She said the meteors will be visible in the eastern sky from around 6 p.m. – but will appear all around the sky later that night.
Ms Gammon-Ross added: “Unfortunately the waning gibbous moon will make it harder to see meteors during the peak night this year.
“Gibbous phases occur when the near side of the moon is more than half lit by the Sun, meaning it will appear very bright in our sky.
“This will make it difficult to see other nearby celestial objects.”
The Geminids come from a rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon with a comet-like orbit and were first observed in 1862.
Meteors, small pieces of interplanetary debris, appear to radiate near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini.
Friction with the upper atmosphere heats incoming debris, causing the air around it to glow.
This leads to streaks of light which are also known as shooting stars.
According to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Geminids are unusual in that they can be multi-colored – mostly white, some yellow, and some green, red and blue.
These colors are partly caused by the presence of trace metals like sodium and calcium, the same effect that is used to color fireworks, experts from the Royal Observatory said.
Geminids also have a slower closing speed than many other comets because they enter Earth’s atmosphere at an angle, traveling at around 79,200 miles per hour.
By comparison, the Perseids approach Earth at 133,200 mph and the Leonids at 162,000 miles per hour.
Ms Gammon-Ross said the best way to minimize its impact is to look for meteors before the moon rises – around 10pm in the UK on peak night.
She added: ‘For the best chance of spotting Geminids, find a dark area of clear sky and allow about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
“It may also be advisable to lie down because you may look up for a long time.”
Showers will continue to be visible until December 20.