Skywatchers have something to look forward to tonight with the Geminid meteor shower peaking December 13 and 14th. Some Western states currently have snow cover and snowstorms, which might rule out sky watchers getting to observe one of the strongest meteor showers of the year. The Geminids could be visible in the late evening hours on Sunday, but the ideal time to look to the skies would be around 2 AM Monday.
EarthSky says that is the best time to view the meteor shower no matter where you are in the world. At 2 AM, the radiant point, which is the point where the meteors appear to come from, is the highest in the sky. The number of meteors produced by the Geminid shower each year varies, but the shower is known for producing a number of “shooting stars.”
Several variables affect how well you’re able to view the meteor shower in your particular area. Viewing depends on how dark the sky is and cloud cover. Helping people to view the meteor shower is that the moon is only one percent full, contributing to very dark skies.
The Geminid meteor shower is the result of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Being created by an asteroid is rather unique because, typically, meteor showers are created by comets. The asteroid responsible for the Geminid meteor shower was discovered in October 1863. It was named after a Greek myth about the son of Helios, the Greek sun God, because the asteroid approaches close to the sun.
Phaethon orbits closer to the sun than any other asteroid taking 1.4 years to complete a single orbit. Each time the asteroid approaches the sun, it heats to a searing 1300 degrees Fahrenheit causing it to shed debris. Those particles cause the meteor shower when they plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporize.