100+ meteors per hour. That’s how good tonight’s Geminid meteor shower is expected to be according to NASA. There’s just one problem. A gigantic storm system will keep the dazzling display behind clouds.
A glance at Accuweather’s visibility map shows much of the country under poor viewing conditions. Your best bet? I hope you live in Texas or New Mexico and parts of the surrounding states.
Watch the Geminids with Slooh
Since the weather will be an issue for most of us, watching online is the next best bet.
The Slooh Observatory covers tons of space events and tonight’s meteor shower is no different. Slooh astronomers Will Gater and Bob Berman will be on hand tonight to talk about and watch the Geminids.
They will touch on where the Geminids come from and why they are so bright. According to Slooh, some of the meteors will shine red, blue or green. Most of them will be the usual white and yellow, but there’s about a 10% chance to see a colorful meteor.
Where and When to Watch?
So, you actually have clear skies? Cool, here’s where you need to look. As with most meteor showers, its name comes from the constellation they appear to originate from. The Gemini constellation. You can where it sits in the image below. Tip: look for Orion and you are close
Knowing where the Geminids’ radiant point (where the meteors come from) isn’t the end all be all. A good rule of thumb? Lay on the ground with your feet pointed towards Gemini. These meteors will be streaking across large swaths of the sky. Just lay back, get comfortable and enjoy the show.
Now you know where to look; what about when? The Geminids peak at 2 a.m. EST. But meteors will be visible throughout the night from sunset to sunrise.
Did You Know?
The Geminids are young compared to other well-known meteor showers. They were first discovered in 1862, much later than the Perseids (36 AD) and Leonids (902 AD). Geminids started with a whimper around the American Civil War, but are now regularly considered the best annual meteor shower.
Where do the Geminids come from? Every mid-December Earth passes through debris left behind from comet 3200 Phaethon as it travels through our solar system. Phaethon isn’t your typical comet. It doesn’t have any ice. Because of this, researchers have classified it as an extinct comet. Where did all the ice go? The answer lies in its orbit.
— NASA Marshall News (@NASA_Marshall) December 13, 2015
Hard to have any ice when you’re that close to the sun.
Remember when I mentioned the potential to see different color meteors? That’s because the Geminids are just pieces of rock from the comet breaking away. It’s not a mixture of ice and other debris like we see in other meteor showers. Besides the potential for more color, Geminids also burn longer thanks to being denser. And it’s the chemical makeup of these pieces that give them their color. See a red meteor? It’s rich in nitrogen and oxygen. Yellow? That’s iron.
This year’s Geminids peak is shaping up to be a good one. Too bad the weather isn’t cooperating. If you manage to see any tonight, let me know. I’ll be heading out around midnight to see if I can catch a couple through breaks (hopefully) in the clouds.[easy-fans show_total=”0″ hide_title=”1″ columns=”3″ template=”metro” effects=”essbfc-no-effect”]
Featured image credit: Flickr/Jason Hullinger