If there’s anything positive to take from this tumultuous year it’s the number of astronomical spectacles we’ve been treated to. With all the magic light shows that winter brings, it’s easy to forget that the sky provides some stunning celestial light shows of its own.
Aspiring astronomers will know that the blazing fireballs of the Leonid Meteor Shower last month were only a warm-up to an even more incredible meteor shower every December.
According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, we’re in for an astounding astronomical event this December, which will be visible from the night sky on December 13 and 14 and luckily for us, the stars have aligned to make conditions some of the best to date.
When is the Geminid Meteor Shower?
The most active and reliable shower of the year – the Geminid Meteor Shower, occurs annually from around December 4 until December 16 and tends to favor Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. This year it is expected to peak after nightfall on Tuesday, December 13, and into dawn on Wednesday, December 14, with the optimum time to look to the skies said to be around 2 am the morning of Wednesday, December 14. It’s during these hours that the skies are darkest and the maximum number of meteors fall per hour, with the average rate at 120 meteors an hour!
The Geminid Meteor Shower, named after the constellation Gemini, is comprised of debris from Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The asteroid is renowned for its quantity of debris and the prismatic meteors it produces. This year astronomers have predicted that the Geminids will bring up to 120 visible meteors per hour and luckily, with a New Moon expected around December 14th, the extra-dark skies will help illuminate the stars and meteors.
As with any meteor shower, the best place they are seen is as far away from cities where pollution and artificial lights limit visibility. This is tricky given the current circumstances and the cold weather but if you can get out of urban areas, you’re in for a real treat! The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so though it’s tempting to use binoculars or a telescope, it’s best to just peer up at the open sky and avoid using phones or screens so your eyes can better adjust.
For photographers, NASA recommends, using a camera with manual focus on a tripod with a shutter release cable or built-in timer, fitted with a wide-angle lens.