The annual Geminid meteor shower is active between during the first two weeks of December. During this period of activity, for one night only, the meteors erupt in intensity, creating an unforgettable light show over Earth. Astronomer Anna Ross, Royal Observatory Greenwich, told Express.co.uk the Geminid shower is active this year from December 4 to December 17. And the shower’s peak this year falls on the night of Friday, December 14.
The astronomer said: “This year the Geminids will be visible from the 4th to the 17th of December, peaking on the 14th when around 120 meteors will be visible per hour.
“They will be in their highest concentration near the star Castor in the constellation of Gemini, which will be visible in the East of the sky from around 8pm, but meteors will appear all around the sky over those nights.”
For the best viewing times, Ms Ross suggested you go outside around 2am GMT on the night of December 13 or December 14.
This because the Geminids’ namesake constellation Gemini will be highest in the skies on those two nights.
How to best see the Geminids meteor shower?
The Geminids will appear to radiate from a point near the constellation Gemini.
The highest concentration of shooting stars will most likely burst out from the birth star Castor, which forms the upper point of the constellations.
Directly below Castor you will notice the orange-tinted star Castor – the brightest star in the Gemini constellation.
If you choose to catch the Geminids outdoors, be sure find a suitable spot far away from the glare of street lamps, houses and cars.
Any strong source of light could hinder your chances of seeing the meteors.
Thankfully, the lack of a well-formed Moon next week should keep the skies nice and dark.
Ms Ross added: “For the best chances to spot them find a dark area of clear sky and allow around 20 minutes to let your eyes adapt to the dark.
“It may also be advisable to lie down as you may be looking up for a long time.”
Open fields with unobstructed views of the horizon are best since you will want to see as much of the sky above you as possible.
You can also forget about taking your telescope or binoculars with you – the meteors are simply too fast to track with instruments.
On the night of the shower just trust your eyes and pack some warm blankets, drinks and snack to stay warm and cosy through the night.
Meteor-hunting in pairs or groups is usually a good idea and the perfect opportunity for people to call out meteors as they zip by.
What are the Geminid meteors?
The Geminids are bits and pieces of space rock broken off of the giant asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
Ms Ross explained: “In December every year, the Earth crosses the orbital path of the Apollo asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
“As the asteroid’s orbit takes it closer to the Sun, the heat damages it producing debris that travels at around 80000 miles per hour until it reaches the Earth’s atmosphere.
“These pieces of debris burn up as they pass through the upper layers of the atmosphere (so around 100 km above the Earth’s surface) appearing to us as the Geminid meteor shower.”
The asteroid was named after Phaethon, the son of the Greek god of the Sun Helios.