Flawless conditions ahead for Geminid meteor shower, pairings of moon, planets

The annual Geminid meteor shower in northern Italy

The annual Geminid meteor shower in northern Italy

The greatest numbers of meteors, though, will fall from midnight to 2 a.m. when the radiant point - the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini - is highest in the sky. This year should offer a wonderful meteor show. Known as the 3200 Phaethon, the asteroid wields a "rock comet" orbit, omitting the aforementioned stream of dust particles which go on to collide with Earth's atmosphere, flaring up as shooting stars. Although many people concentrate on the constellation Gemini, you should watch all parts of the sky for Geminids meteors.

In some years, the moon is at a large phase all or most of the night and its bright light washes out our view of most of the meteors. In addition, the brilliant planet Jupiter will be rising in the east around the peak of the Geminids meteor shower and will be visible until dawn.

The other reason why this year is astronomically favorable for the U.S.to see the Geminids is the exact timing of Earth's encounter with the central section of the meteoroid swarm. But the climax of the shower this year is predicted to occur about 1 a.m. December 14 - which is only one hour before the radiant in Gemini is highest for observers in the eastern U.S. So next week, Wednesday evening to Thursday dawn, should provide the very best numbers.

The Geminids meteor showers will peak on the evening of December 13 and continue until early morning December 14.

The past year that there were similarly favorable conditions for the Geminids I saw 68 of them in my best hour, along with about 14 meteors from other directions. Then participants will head out to sit a spell and watch the sky. From 11 p.m.to 4 a.m. Geminid rates of 60 or more would be possible if skies are quite clear.

We are in luck this year with only the light from a slender, waning crescent moon to contend with.

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