Science

Geminid meteor shower 2021: when, where and how to see it

The famous Geminid meteor shower will cast bright shooting stars this December. But 2021 is not expected to be a spectacular year for the Geminids, as the peak of rain on December 13-14 comes just a few days before the full moon.

When there is interference of light of the moon, sky watchers can see up to 150 meteors per hour at the peak night, according to the American Meteor Society. However, due to the inference of moonlight, the Geminid meteor shower 2021 can only produce maximum rates of 60 to 120 meteors visible per hour, and many of them seem pretty weak, according to columnist watching the sky of Space.com, Joe Rao. That’s because the light of the growing and gibbous moon will dominate all but the brightest meteors.

Even after the peak, bright meteors can be visible for the next few nights. The best time to observe the Geminids is approximately 2 am in your local time zone.

Related: Stunning Photos of the Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminids are considered one of the best meteor showers every year because individual meteors are bright and come fast and furious. In 2020, because the peak of the rain coincided with the new moon, the Geminids proved to be one of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year. Although best visible from the northern hemisphere, Geminid meteors can also be seen from the southern hemisphere.

The Geminid meteor shower is nearly 200 years old, according to known records (the first recorded observation was in 1833 from a riverboat on the Mississippi River) and it is still going strong. In fact, it is getting stronger. That’s because Jupiter’s gravity has pulled the stream of particles from the rain source, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, closer to Earth over the centuries.

When to see them

Geminid meteors appear to diverge from a single point in the sky, called the radiant, located in the constellation Gemini. But you will see as many as possible if you lean back and look at the whole sky; they can appear anywhere in the sky, moving away from that point. (Image credit: Sky & Telescope / Gregg Dinderman)

Meteorites tend to peak at 2 a.m. local time wherever you are observing from, but can be seen as early as 9-10 p.m.

The Geminids, as the name implies, seems to emanate from the bright constellation Gemini, the twins. To find Gemini in the northern hemisphere, look in the southwestern sky of the constellation Orion, the hunter, which is easy to detect by the three stars of the hunter “belt.” Then look just above and to the left of Orion to see Gemini, high in the southwestern sky. In the southern hemisphere, Gemini appears to the lower right of Orion and both will hang in the northwestern sky.

Although the meteors will appear to be moving away from Gemini, they can appear all over the sky. For best results, you should look away from Gemini slightly so that you can see meteors with longer “tails” as they pass; Looking directly at Gemini will only show you meteorites that don’t travel very far.

In fact, NASA’s All-Sky Camera captured some incredible views of the Geminids in 2018:

Where do they come from?

The Geminids are associated with the near-Earth object 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid that may have collided with another object in the distant past to produce the stream of particles encountered by Earth, creating the meteor shower.

The asteroid orbits the sun every 1.4 years. It occasionally approaches Earth (at a safe distance) and also passes very close to the sun, within the orbit of Mercury and only 0.15 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is the distance between the sun and the Earth: about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.)

Rocks in space that are about to collide with Earth’s atmosphere are called meteoroids. Those that pass through the atmosphere are called meteors, and if they hit the ground (which will not happen with the Geminids, as the particles are too small to survive the journey) the rocks are called meteorites.

The orbit of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which passes around the sun once every 1.4 years. Although it is an asteroid, its long trajectory is reminiscent of comets. The Geminid meteor shower occurs every year when Earth passes through debris left along the asteroid’s path. (Image credit: Sky diagram and telescope)

How to get the best view

Meteor showers don’t require binoculars or telescopes to see, just your bare eyes. Find a comfortable place to lie on the ground, away from lights and ideally in a dark sky area. Bring a blanket and dress warm if it is in cold weather. Give your eyes about 20-30 minutes to adjust to the dark, then sit back and enjoy the show.

Editor note: if you capture an amazing view of the Geminid meteor shower or any other view of the night sky you would like to share with Space.com for a possible story or gallery, send images and comments to: spacepramio@.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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