Look to the sky: Geminid meteor shower, one of the best of the year, peaks Thursday night
By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
December 13, 2018, 2:13:11 PM EST
Thursday night will feature hundreds of meteors streaking across the night sky as the Geminid shower reaches its peak.
“The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor showers of the year and meteor enthusiasts are certain to circle Dec. 13 and 14 on their calendars,” the American Meteor Society said.
The chilly winter weather may deter some people from heading outside this week to look for the Geminids, but those that brave the elements will be rewarded with up to 120 multi-colored meteors per hour.
When to look for the Geminids
The Geminids will peak on Thursday night into early Friday morning, but onlookers should be able to spot plenty of meteors on the nights leading up to the shower’s peak.
In addition to being the most active meteor shower of the year, it is also one of the few showers where meteors are visible during the evening hours.
“Most meteor showers tend to have better meteor rates after midnight, but the Geminids will be very active all night,“ AccuWeather Astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said.
This is good for younger observers trying to spot some meteors on a school night.
However, the best viewing conditions will arrive after midnight when the hourly meteor rate increases and after the moon has set.
“In 2018, the waxing crescent moon will be present in the evening sky. Geminid meteors can be seen with the moon in the sky, but it is advised to keep your back to the bright moon so that your eyes can adjust to the darkness,” the American Meteor Society said.
The moon will set by 11 p.m. local time Thursday night. Once it sets, the lower light pollution will make it easier to spot some of the dimmer meteors.
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The best viewing weather on Thursday night is expected across the central and western United States.
"Residents from southern Minnesota to eastern Montana, southward to the Four Corners region will enjoy generally clear skies," AccuWeather Meteorologist Randy Adkins said.
People in the Northeast may want to try viewing the shower on Wednesday night as the weather will be better than the night the shower peaks.
"It looks like much of the East will be dealing with some cloud cover [due to] a strong storm system in the Mississippi Valley," Adkins said.
"Meanwhile, the Northwest looks unfavorable as there will be a wealth of clouds," Adkins said.
The Geminids will be visible all around the globe, but tend to favor the Northern Hemisphere.
“From the Southern Hemisphere, observers should see fewer, but still plenty, of medium speed meteors once Gemini rises above the horizon after midnight local time,” NASA said.
People heading out for the Geminids should also look for Comet46P/Wirtanen, which should grow blighter in the night sky into the weekend.
Tips for viewing meteor showers
Most people across the U.S. should be able to see some meteors from their backyards if skies are clear, but following a few simple tips, such as going to an area away from city lights, can allow observers to see more shooting stars.
One common misconception is that people need to look in a certain part of the sky to see meteors, when in fact meteors will able to be seen in all areas of the sky.
“The best way to see the most meteors is simply to see as much of the sky as possible. The easiest way to do this is to lie flat on your back, in a lounge/lawn chair for example,” Samuhel said.
“You will also want to dedicate at least 45 minutes to an hour to get the most out of your meteor shower experience. Your eyes need a solid half hour to adjust. Then give yourself another half hour to take in the meteors,” Samuhel added.
In 2017, some observers counted as many as 160 meteors in an hour under ideal conditions.
One reason why the Geminid meteor shower is the most reliable shower of the year is because of the celestial object that causes it.
“The meteor shower is triggered by an interesting object. 3200 Phaethon is a comet/asteroid hybrid. It orbits the sun every 550+ days. This object puts out a fresh batch of debris every other year. This makes the Geminid meteor shower very consistent. Some argue it is actually increasing in intensity,” Samuhel said.
Those that miss this week’s Geminid meteor shower will have to wait until 2020 for another good showing as the peak of next year’s Geminids falls during a full moon.
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