Wherever you are in the world, it would be advisable to turn your gaze skyward tonight as this evening (14 December) will see the final peak day of the Geminid meteor shower, but it’s not your only chance.
At this time of year, stargazers are treated to one of the most visible displays of meteors in the form of the Geminid meteor shower, which usually occurs from 7 December to 17 December, but 14 December marks the time when it’s most visible.
Unlike other cosmic events, the Geminid meteor shower will not be a localised event depending on the timing being just right – such as the ISS being visible above Ireland as it was docking with the Cygnus spacecraft – but will rather be a worldwide sight.
Named after the constellation the meteors will appear to come from, the shower is expected to be visible even in the bright lights of the city, so turning your gaze to any cloudless patch in the sky for a period of time should allow you to catch a glimpse of it.
However, if we are to get specific, Astronomy Ireland’s David Moore says that the actual peak is expected during the afternoon here in Ireland meaning we won’t be able to see it, but the night’s sky tonight will still be very strong.
In fact, the best time to see the meteors will be early tomorrow morning as we transition from night to day when we’re “on the front windscreen” as it were as we go head-first into the cloud of cosmic dust.
‘Good for city dwellers’
But if you’re not around tonight to see the spectacle, then fear not, as its gradual decline in meteor numbers means the chance of seeing it over coming nights is still high.
Tonight’s peak will see 20-times as many meteors than normal, Moore says, which means even if the number tomorrow night is reduced by half, you’re still 10-times more likely to catch a glimpse of a few and five-times more likely the following night, and so on.
The Geminid meteor shower is one of the two major, reliable meteor showers of the year, with the Perseid meteor shower, which occurred in August, being the other one.
Last month, however, we were struggling to catch a glimpse of the Leonid meteor shower, which is a rarer and more regional-specific cosmic display.
Although from speaking with Moore, his personal favourite is the one that will be happening above our heads tonight.
“What I like about this one is that it’s known for producing very bright shooting stars called fireballs, and I’ve seen a number of them in the past, which is good for city dwellers.”
Astronomy Ireland, as always, is calling on stargazers to send in their shooting star sightings to tits website.
Geminid meteor shower image via Anthony Quintano/Flickr