Meteor shower. Photo by Prokhor Minin on Unsplash

How to Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

The night of December 13th to 14th is generally the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, the brightest one of the year, although before and after the peak it is still spectacular for a few nights.

The optimal places to see this show is a dark sky place, and the best time would be on a nigh with no moon. Around the peak, on adark night, you can often see 50 or more meteors per hour. However, since it is a bright meteor shower, you can most likely see a few from your own back yard, even in cities.

What Is the Best Time to Watch for the Meteors?

Astronomers advise to go out and watch for meteors around 2 am. I know, not many of us can get up at that time. It is also possible to see a few any time after 10 pm, though probably not before that.

Why 2 am, you might wonder? Besides the fact that most people urn their lights off even in cities by then, this is the time when the point the meteors seem to originate from is the highest in the sky. The higher the constellation Gemini (the point of the Geminid meteor shower seems to originate from) climbs in the sky, the more meteors you are likely to se.

The radiant point of the Geminids is closest to the constellation’s brightest star, Castor. Radiant point is the spot they seem to radiate from, though this is an illusion. In this case, Castor is about 52light-yearsfrom us, while the meteors we see are in our upper atmosphere, about 60 miles above us.

However unrelated, astronomers and stargazers tell us about the radiant point as a reference point to which direction to look to see the most meteors. Though it helps, you don’t need to find a meteor shower’s radiant point to see them, you can see them all over the sky.

How to Find the Radiant Point of the Geminids?

To find Gemini constellation, the place the Geminids seem to originates, look for Orion, the hunter. Orion is a fun constellation to look for, it was the first one I learned to find when I first got involved in stargazing. It is easiest to spot if you look for the three stars aligned forming its belt.

Gemini is just left from Orion, in the Northern Hemisphere (the only place I’ve watched it. But from what I understand, in the Southern Hemisphere, you need to look to its lower right.

The meteor appear to start in Gemini, but you can see them all across the sky. During my stargazing days I learned that once you found Gemini, you should look slightly away from it to see the most meteors, especially the ones with longer tails. Looking directly to Gemini, you’ll only see those closest to it, which will appear to have shorter tails.

Where Does the Yearly Geminid Meteor Shower Originates From?

The Geminids started to appear in the 19th century, and according to NASA they are one of the best and most reliable yearly meteor showers. Like all other comets, they are debris and comet particles from asteroids. When they collide with Earth’s atmosphere, they create the streaks we see as meteors across our skies.

While the source of all other yearly meteor shower are comets, the source of the Geminids is a rock-comet, or a comet-asteroid-hybrid, called 3200 Phaethon.

If you remember your Greek mythology, Phaeton was the son of Helios, the Sun God. The name for this rock-comet relates to its origin, since its orbit brings it closest to the sun than any other known asteroid.

How To Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower?

Try to go out to a dark sky place, or find the darkest skies you can get close to. If you are lucky, it might be in your back yard.

Go out at 2 am – with a blanket, even if you are in Phoenix – and look up into the sky. Plan to stay out about an hour, but at least more than 20 minutes. That’s because the human eye needs about 20 minutes to get used to the dark.

Like I mentioned earlier, find Gemini, then look slightly away from it for the meteors with longer tails.

Meteors may seem to come in spurs, with long breaks in between, so don’t lose patience if you don’t see any for a relatively long period of time.

Watching meteor showers is one of the stargazing activities that require no equipment. In fact, it is best if you don’t try to look through a telescope, just relax, and watch the sky.

Of course, watching a meteor shower is always most fun when you do it with a partner, or a friend. Obviously, where I am, in the desert Southwest, it will be a lot easier to go out in the middle of the night – and not freeze – than farther north. And even we need blankets if we plan on staying out long in the middle of the night. Do what you can, and have fun, even if you only see a few, from your own back yard.

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