Geminid meteor shower set to enchant stargazers over coming days

12 Dec 2012

Get ready to feast your eyes on a shooting star spectacle, as the annual Geminid meteor shower is on track to peak on 13 and 14 December.

Geminids are bits of debris that come from 3200 Phaethon, an extinct comet. Every year, in December, the earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon, resulting in meteors flying from the constellation Gemini.

As long as there’s a clear, dark sky, the meteors, or shooting stars can be seen with the naked eye. Often, observers can glimpse 50 or more meteors per hour. And because the night of 13 December will be a new moon, this will make viewing conditions even more favourable for spotting the shooting stars.

Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office said that the Geminid meteor shower will peak on 13 and 14 December.

Another possible meteor shower?

As well as this, NASA is forecasting that another meteor shower could happen this week. This is as a result of debris from the comet Wirtanen.

“Dust from this comet hitting Earth’s atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour,” said Cooke.

While the earth has never run into debris streams from Wirtanen before, NASA is predicting that 2012 could be different. It seems that Russian forecaster Mikhail

Maslov has predicted that up to four stream crossings could happen up to 14 December.

If this shower does happen, Cooke said that the best time to see it would be in the early evening, with the Geminids happening later in the evening and up until dawn.

If the new meteor does materialise, NASA said it could be given the name ‘Piscids’. That’s because the shower’s radiant appears to be located in the constellation Pisces.

As for the Geminids, meteor experts from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will be hosting a web chat on the night of 13-14 December to answer questions about the meteor shower. This will happen between 11pm and 3am EMT.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic