The Absolute Best Meteor Shower of the Year Is Tonight, Here’s How to Watch It
There are a handful of meteor showers every year, and there's something special to note about most of them. It can be hard to know which ones you absolutely have to see. There are outbursts and special circumstances, but if you're going to remember one meteor shower to see every year, make it the Geminid meteor shower.
"The Geminids! The best meteor shower of this year," Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, tells Thrillist. "The Geminids are a great meteor shower. They're one of the biggest meteor showers of the year in terms of rates." It can annually produce between 120 and 160 meteors per hour. Not only is the rate impressive, the shower is capable of producing fireballs, which are essentially exceptionally bright meteors.
This year is no exception because unlike last year when the moon provided a little interference, there's going to be damn near perfect viewing conditions for the celestial show. The moon will be just 10% full, according to the American Meteor Society.
One of the most interesting facets of the Geminids is it has steadily been growing stronger since it was first recorded on a Mississippi riverboat in 1833. "Over time, the Geminid meteor shower has increased in strength. Now, it's the strongest meteor shower of the year as far as rates are concerned," Cooke says. "This is because Jupiter's gravity has been tugging the Geminids' meteor stream closer to Earth. Eventually, it may reach 200 [meteors] per hour."
How to Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower
Cooke says the Geminids should produce about 120 meteors per hour this year at its peak, the night of December 13 into the morning of December 14. Like with most meteor showers, the best viewing will come after midnight. Around 2am local time should be the best time across the continental US. "It's for the hardy," Cooke says. "If you go outside on December 13, you're probably going to freeze your tail off." (That's one of many reasons you should check visibility conditions for your meteor viewing.)
Like with any meteor shower, it's important to get far from city lights to get the best viewing experience. You want to watch the display in a dark, open area. (EarthSky has a handy tool for tracking down quality places to stargaze.)
While the shower is named because the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini, you don't need to pinpoint the constellation to find the meteors. In fact, looking directly at Gemini will only show you the handful of meteors that don't travel far. You should look slightly away from the constellation for the best viewing.
As Cooke points out, the weather is a major drawback for the Geminids. It's one reason August's slightly less spectacular Perseids are more popular. So, if you decide snowy fields in the middle of the night aren't your cup of tea, you can catch a live stream of the event through organizations like Slooh.