Shooting Stars Will Light Up the Sky Like Celestial Christmas Lights This December
The year's astronomical grand finale is finally upon us. One of the most dazzling displays in the sky, the Geminid meteor shower will peak in mid-December, gracing the heavens with anywhere from 50 to 120 bright shooting stars per hour. Some excellent news for 2020's shower: We'll have incredibly dark skies with very little light pollution from the moon, meaning you can expect a particularly vibrant show this year. Here's everything you need to know about the Geminid meteor shower.
What is the Geminid meteor shower?
One of the few meteor showers to emanate from a celestial body other than a comet, the Geminids occur each December when the Earth passes through a trail of debris left by the mysterious asteroid-like object 3200 Phaethon. It's one of the most prolific meteor showers of the year, with up to 120 meteors per hour under optimal viewing conditions (i.e. dark, moonless skies). As a bonus, many of these shooting stars are bright and relatively slow-moving, so they're easy to spot, as long as you're away from city lights.
The Geminids are named for the constellation Gemini, which is the radiant point of the meteor shower. All of the shooting stars will seem to originate from this point and move outward. Northern Hemisphere stargazers will get a more prolific display of shooting stars, as the constellation moves far higher in the sky up north than it does in the Southern Hemisphere.
When is the Geminid meteor shower?
The Geminids happen each year between Dec. 4 and 17; in 2020, peak activity will occur on the evening of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14. While you'll see the most shooting stars around 2 a.m., when the Geminids' radiant point is highest in the sky, viewers who aren't night owls can head out around 9 p.m. for a chance to see some meteors, though there might only be a handful each hour.
How can I see the Geminid meteor shower?
Just look up! Given how prolific the Geminids are, it's pretty easy to spot the meteors. Plus, this year, the meteor shower's peak falls the night before the new moon, so you don't have to worry about moonlight drowning out the shooting stars.
Overall, the most important tip for stargazing is to get away from light pollution. As long as you're in a super-dark area with clear skies, you'll likely be able to catch the show. Give your eyes at least 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness for the best chance to see some shooting stars.
When is the next meteor shower?
Next on the calendar is the Ursid meteor shower, which runs from Dec. 17 to 26, with a peak on the night of Dec. 22 this year. Disclaimer: This is a relatively quiet meteor shower compared to the spectacle of the Geminids, with only five to 10 shooting stars expected per hour.