Get Ready for the Most Spectacular Meteor Shower of the Year
The Geminid Meteor shower will light up the sky at its peak on Sunday night.
Despite the onset of winter cold, December is shaping up to be a great month for stargazing. The night sky is treating us to planetary alignments as well as northern lights activity, and the great conjunction—aka the "Christmas star"—is coming up later this month. And what's perhaps the crown jewel of stargazing events this month arrives later this weekend with the dazzling peak of the Geminid meteor shower. You will not want to miss it.
The Geminid meteor shower occurs from December 4 through December 17, but the absolute best time to catch it—the shower's peak—arrives the night of Sunday, December 13, into the morning of Monday, December 14. That's when you'll see the most meteors light up the night sky.
This year, you can expect quite a few meteors—as many as 150 meteors per hour—under ideal conditions, according to the American Meteor Society. This puts it up there with the Perseid meteor shower (as many as 80 meteors per hour), back in August, as one of the best meteor showers of the year. However, unlike the Perseids, the Geminids don't offer the same comfortable viewing weather of late summer. It's mid-December and, well, you're going to be cold when you venture out into the darkness of the overnight hours.
It's going to take some dedication to pull on your winter gear in the wee hours of the morning, but that dedication will likely be rewarded with a higher rate of visible meteors this year. As NASA explains in a recent blog post, the peak of the shower arrives around the same time as a nearly new moon, meaning the sky will be darker and there won't be pesky moonlight washing out some of the fainter meteors. You'll find optimal viewing conditions around 2 am local time if the weather cooperates.
The weather, of course, is a critical factor to consider before dragging yourself out of bed in the middle of the night to catch the show. If it's cloudy in your neck of the woods, it won't be worth interrupting your sleep schedule. You need clear skies—more specifically, clear skies free of urban and suburban light pollution—to spot the meteors streaking across the stars and truly take in the dazzling spectacle. Unfortunately, the forecast as of Friday isn't looking so great for many part of the country, according to AccuWeather:
So, if you're planning on trying to watch the Geminids, be smart and keep a close eye on your weather apps in the lead-up to the peak. You don't want to end up driving out to somewhere dark only to get a good view of... nothing much.
Should you luck out with the weather, there are a few things you can do for maximum meteor enjoyment. Here's what NASA recommends: "If it’s not cloudy, get away from bright lights, lie on your back, and look up. Remember to let your eyes get adjusted to the dark—you’ll see more meteors that way. Keep in mind, this adjustment can take approximately 30 minutes. Don’t look at your cell phone screen, as it will ruin your night vision." Also, don't bother with binoculars as you'll want to see as much of the sky as possible.
Oh, and you can always check out the show via video live streams, such as the one NASA will be broadcasting on Facebook from 8 pm on December 13 through 4 am on December 14, assuming the weather cooperates at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.