Get set for the Geminid meteor shower: a shooting star spectacular for the end of the year! Many people look out for the annual Perseid meteor shower, which occurs in August. It is, however, not the most spectacular meteor shower. The Geminids hold that title and they can be seen this month. The Geminids reach maximum on the nights of December 13/14 and December 14/15 when up to 120 meteors per hour might be seen.
Meteors are connected with comets. As a comet, which is essentially a dirty snowball, travels around the Sun, it leaves a trail of dust behind it. If the Earth happens to pass through such a trail we see a meteor shower. The Earth passes through many such streams each year. Some of the meteor showers are spectacular; others less so, but they are all predictable. The Geminids are so called because the meteors all seem to come from the constellation of Gemini the Twins. They are special because they are associated not with a comet but with an asteroid, called Phaethon.
The pieces of dust produced by asteroids are slightly larger than those produced by comets and because of this they travel through the Earth’s atmosphere more slowly, making them much brighter than the usual meteors. The Geminids travel at about twenty miles a second, while most other meteors travel at speeds closer to forty miles per second. The dust particles burn up due to friction in the Earth’s atmosphere.
If there are no clouds we should be in for a spectacular event. If you see a meteor or shooting star in the sky, remember to make a wish!