Tonight: The Geminids peak with over 100 meteors per hour
The biggest meteor shower of 2023 is about to peak with shooting stars raining down from the heavens -- one of the last astronomy events of its kind until the end of April.
The best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids, will rain down the night sky on Dec. 13-14, boasting more than 100 meteors per hour.
There are not many days left before 2023 comes to an end, but there is still one more major astronomical event that is about to put on a dazzling display in the night sky -- and folks who miss the show may have to wait until the spring for the next chance to see another event like it.
The Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of Wednesday, Dec. 13, into the early morning of Thursday, Dec. 14, an alluring event for stargazers of all ages.
More than 100 meteors per hour can be counted from dark areas, with reports in recent years of hourly rates briefly climbing as high as 150 per hour. Onlookers who are closer to towns and cities with light pollution may not be able to see the Geminids on full display but should still be able to see more shooting stars than many other meteor showers throughout the year.
Satellite antenna array under the meteor shower. (Getty Images)
It's not just the abundance of meteors that makes the Geminids a must-see event, but also the time of night when people can see shooting stars streak through the sky.
Geminids to begin early Wednesday night
Most major meteor showers can only be seen during the second half of the night, but people who step outside on Wednesday evening may begin to see meteors not long after nightfall.
"This is the one major shower that provides good activity prior to midnight," the American Meteor Society explained on its website.
Because meteors will begin to appear shortly after nightfall, the Geminids are great for younger stargazers who have never seen a shooting star, especially since it peaks on a school night.
Silhouette of a person standing on a rock under a starry night with a shooting star. (Pexels/Mukul Parashar)
The meteor shower will start slowly, with perhaps just a dozen or two shooting stars per hour early in the night. It will gradually build as the night transpires, with the frequency of meteors likely surpassing 100 per hour after midnight.
Excellent conditions are expected this year as the moon will not hinder observers. Next year, the Geminids will peak on the same night as a nearly full moon, with the moonlight washing out all but the brightest meteors. However, disruptive clouds could pose a problem for some onlookers this year, AccuWeather forecasters warn.
Cloud forecast for the Geminids on Wednesday night
The fickle December weather can make viewing the Geminids a challenge across North America, and when the clouds do break, the clear conditions often go hand-in-hand with a teeth-chattering chill.
Cloudy conditions are in the forecast for more than half of the United States on Wednesday night, including the Gulf Coast states, the southern Plains, most of the West Coast and nearly all of New England. Clouds are in the forecast for most of Canada and portions of Mexico.
The best viewing conditions are expected across a stripe from the northern Plains to the mid-Atlantic, as well as most of the interior Southwest. There could also be some breaks in the clouds across part of the Midwest, Rocky Mountains and into the Canadian Prairies that allow stargazers to see at least part of the celestial light show on Wednesday night.
Two smaller meteor showers are predicted to peak in the coming weeks, starting with the Ursids on the night of Thursday, Dec. 21, into the early hours of Friday, Dec. 22. However, it only features five to 10 meteors per hour, a far cry from the mid-December Geminids.
The third night of 2024 will bring the peak of the Quadrantids with over 25 shooting stars per hour, but the short-lived event only lasts for around six hours, making it a challenge to view even if the weather cooperates.
Following the Quadrantids, the next moderate meteor shower will not occur until spring with the Lyrids in late April.
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