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Sky watchers are treated to over thirty meteor showers throughout the year. However, most pale in comparison to the Geminids. Nicknamed the "900-pound gorilla of meteor showers" by NASA, they outweigh other dust streams by factors of between 5 to 500! The "shooting stars" have been active since December 4 and will continue until December 17, 2022. But their best showing will be on the night of December 13 into the morning of December 14, 2022, when up to 120 meteors will be flying through the sky every hour.
The Geminids are named after the constellation Gemini, from which they appear to come. The meteor showers are, however, the result of particles left behind by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.
3200 Phaethon orbits the Sun every 1.4 years. The asteroid comes so close to the star that its surface gets heated to about 1500°F (815°C). This causes the space rock to shed debris the size of sand grains or peas. Over the centuries, the tiny particles of the 3200 Phaethon have formed a "river of rubble" along the asteroid's orbit.
Earth encounters the debris annually in mid-December during its orbit around the Sun. When the particles collide with our planet's outer atmosphere, they burn and transform into spectacular "shooting stars." The Geminids favor the Northern Hemisphere. But the meteors are also visible from the Southern Hemisphere.
The Geminids are easier to observe than other meteors because they zip across the skies at a slower rate of about 22 miles (35 kilometers) per second. This is about half the speed of the Perseid meteors' 37 miles (60 kilometers) per second.
For those planning to brave the freezing winter morning to watch this year’s final celestial show, here are some tips from experts. Bundle up, pack some hot cocoa and get as far away as possible from city lights. Most importantly, be patient. It will take your eyes up to 30 minutes to adjust to the dark skies. Also, the shooting stars do not come at regular intervals. Instead, they zip across the skies in clumps about every five to seven minutes.
Resources: Space.com, NASA.gov, Guardian.com