Christmas lights won’t be the only things flickering in the dark this holiday season. An impressive December sky show will be coming soon, as the Geminids meteor shower reaches its peak Monday night, Dec. 13, into early Tuesday morning, Dec. 14.
The annual Geminids shower often generates 50 to 100 meteors per hour and even as many as 120 to 150 per hour in dark locations during its peak period, according to astronomy experts.
Although the moonlight will make it tough to see the fainter meteors, plenty of shooting stars should still be visible during this year’s shower, EarthSky.org says. But the best viewing time will be in the early morning hours on Tuesday, just after the moon sets.
“The peak of the shower coincides with a moon just a few days past first-quarter phase,” the astronomy website notes. “On the evening of December 13, the moon will be more than 77-percent lit and already above the horizon as darkness falls.”
“The moon will drift across the sky to the west over the course of the night, among the stars of Pisces, setting around 4 a.m. local time,” EarthSky adds. “This leaves a couple hours of darkness before sunrise of good meteor viewing.” As usual, it’s best to find a viewing location that is as far away as possible from bright city lights or street lights.
Worth noting: “Geminid meteors tend to be bold, white and quick,” EarthSky says.
While most meteor showers originate from comets, the Geminids are actually small fragments of an asteroid, known as 3200 Phaethon. (Another meteor shower that’s linked to an asteroid is the Quadrantids, peaking in early January.)
The Geminids were named after the constellation Gemini, “because the meteors seem to emerge from this constellation in the sky,” says TimeAndDate.com.
The final meteor shower of 2021 will be the Ursids meteor shower, which will be visible in the northern hemisphere from Dec. 13 to Dec. 26 and will likely reach its peak during the late-night hours of Tuesday, Dec. 21 into the early morning hours on Wednesday, Dec. 22.
Because the December moon turns full on the night of Dec. 18, it will be about 90% illuminated on Dec. 22. So that could make it tough to see the faintest meteors.
The Ursids meteor shower usually generates only five to 10 shooting stars per hour, with the highest numbers in the darkest locations. However, once in a while, this meteor shower over-performs.
In 1945 and 1986, the Ursids produced as many as 50 meteors per hour, Space.com notes. In addition, there have been occasional years in which “bursts of 100 or more meteors per hour have been observed,” according to EarthSky.org.
The first meteor shower of 2022 will be the Quadrantid meteor shower. Although this shower is active from late December (starting around Dec. 26) to the second week of January, it is expected to peak between the night of Jan. 2 and the morning of Jan. 3, 2022, according to the American Meteor Society.
“These meteors usually lack persistent trains but often produce bright fireballs,” the American Meteor Society notes.
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Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com.