Backyard Observatory

The Most Spectacular Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks Tonight. Here's How to See It.

Meteors will streak through the sky all night if you know when to go out.

A busy month for stargazers will include a busy night of meteors on December 13 when the Geminid meteor shower peaks. 

The shower runs from December 4 through December 17 but will be at its peak the night of December 13 into the early morning of December 14. The wintry meteor shower will be the most active shower of 2020. It is annually a noteworthy show, but this year you can expect to see around 100 meteors per hour, Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist. Other estimates even hit as high as 150 per hour at the shower's peak under perfect conditions, which EarthSky suggests is a possibility this year.

Here's what you need to know about the Geminids in 2020.

geminid meteor shower tonight
The view in the southern sky for the Geminid meteor shower. | YouTube/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

How to watch the Geminid meteor shower

There's a chance of seeing meteors as soon as it gets dark. (That feels like it happens at noon this time of year.) The best time to go out, however, is late when the Earth is facing into the field of debris left behind by asteroid 3200 Phaethon that creates the meteor shower. With most showers, that's generally after midnight local time, but Cooke recommends stargazers go out around 2 am local time to see the maximum number of meteors. 

That's the best time for the Geminids because it's when the constellation Gemini, the meteor shower's radiant point or the spot from which the meteors appear to emanate, is at its highest point in the sky. Though, if you're in the southern hemisphere where the Geminids aren't quite as spectacular, you might want to go out a little closer to midnight.

Fortunately, the moon will not have risen at that point and we're right around the new moon. That's going to make it a great year for the Geminids because the moon will not provide any light pollution to wash out your. Though, many of the Geminids' meteors are easy to see. It's a shower that is rich in fireballs, which are brighter than your average meteor. 

In addition to clear skies, you're going to need to get somewhere very dark. You're not going to see a whole lot from a city because of the unavoidable light pollution that can hide meteors for miles and miles around cities. Light Pollution Map and Dark Site Finder can help you find dark areas near you. Then you'll want to face south for the best shot at seeing as many meteors as possible. It's going to be a great show if you've got clear weather. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.
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