The great spectacle of the Geminids, the shooting stars of December, is coming

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Perhaps less well-known than the August 2023 “meteor shower,” December’s meteors can still provide a great spectacle for those willing to brave the cold winter evenings. In fact, every December there is a return of the Geminid meteor shower. , this particularly auspicious year when the peak falls during the new moon. Result? The night sky will be very dark from the time the Geminids become visible in the late evening until the light of dawn illuminates the horizon. And the darker the sky, the better the show.

Rendezvous with the strange Phaeton. Shooting stars appear when dust grains hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up more than 80 kilometers away. The larger or faster the grain, the brighter the resulting flash. And this happens because as the Earth orbits the Sun, it constantly passes through streams of dust and debris left behind by asteroids and comets. When it encounters these dust showers, the amount of particles entering the atmosphere increases and a “meteor shower” is born. And every December Earth passes through a debris stream left behind by an asteroid called (3200) Phaethon. This is an unusual object. It moves in a very elongated orbit, which makes it much closer to the Sun than Mercury and further than Mars. As a result, it alternately bakes and freezes, shattering the surface and scattering dust into the space.

Geminids

The sky over Milan around three o’clock in the morning on December 15.

100 meteors per hour. The emitted dust spread around Phaethon’s orbit, and every time Earth reaches the object’s orbit, it passes through the debris tube, leading to the Geminid meteor shower. Earth takes several weeks to pass through the debris left behind by Phaethon, and for most of that time the Geminids remain a minor event. However, for two or three nights, towards mid December, crosses the densest part of the “dust jet”. In our hemisphere, the Geminids produce more than 100 meteors per hour.

Best time to watch. A meteor shower can only be seen when the part of the Earth you are standing on faces the stream. This means you won’t see any meteors for the Geminids until the constellation Gemini rises relative to your position.

The further north you are on the planet, the earlier the “radiator” will rise in the evening. This is the point in the sky from which meteors appear to radiate. The higher the radiant in the sky, the more current you will face and the more meteors you will be able to see. The best time will be the evening and night of December 14. This means that there is a possibility of seeing some Geminids even in the evening before and after December 14, whenever the radiant is above the horizon, with a respectable rate as early as an hour after the radiant rises.

Lie down with your eyes up. From experience, the best way to spot meteors is to find and look towards the radiant (ie the constellation Gemini) and watch the constellation at night. Ideally, you should be looking up at about a 45 degree angle from the ground. So lying down is best.



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