Geminid Meteor Shower: NASA to Livestream Annual Highlight of December Skies

Every December we have a chance to see one of our favorite meteor showers – the Geminids. The shower is currently active until Dec. 17 and will peak on the night of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14, making those hours the best time for viewing the meteor shower.

Geminids
All meteors appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.” The graphic shows the radiants of 388 meteors with speeds of 35 km/s observed by the NASA Fireball Network in December 2020. All the radiants are in Gemini, which means they belong to the Geminid shower. Credit: NASA

The Geminids are caused by debris from a celestial object known as 3200 Phaethon, whose origin is the subject of some debate. Some astronomers consider it to be an extinct comet, based on observations showing some small amount of material leaving Phaethon’s surface. Others argue that it has to be an asteroid because of its orbit and its similarity to the main-belt asteroid Pallas.

Whatever the nature of Phaethon, observations show that the Geminids are denser than meteors belonging to other showers, enabling them to get as low as 29 miles above Earth’s surface before burning up. Meteors belonging to other showers, like the Perseids, burn up much higher.

The Geminids can be seen by most of the world. Yet, it is best viewed by observers in the Northern Hemisphere. As you enter the Southern Hemisphere and move towards the South Pole, the altitude of the Geminid radiant – the celestial point in the sky where the Geminid meteors appear to originate – gets lower and lower above the horizon. Thus, observers in these locations see fewer Geminids than their northern counterparts.

Besides the weather, the phase of the Moon is a major factor in determining whether a meteor shower will have good rates during any given year. This is because the moonlight “washes out” the fainter meteors, resulting in sky watchers seeing the fewer bright ones. This year, the Moon will be almost 80% full at the peak of the Geminids, which isn’t ideal for our highly regarded meteor shower. Nevertheless, that bright Moon is expected to set around 2:00 a.m. wherever you are located, leaving a couple of hours for meteor watching until twilight.

“Rich in green-colored fireballs, the Geminids are the only shower I will brave cold December nights to see,” said Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

NASA will broadcast a live stream of the shower’s peak Dec. 13-14 via a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, (if our weather cooperates!), starting at 8 p.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.

Meteor videos recorded by the All Sky Fireball Network are also available each morning to identify Geminids in these videos – just look for events labeled “GEM.”

Learn more about the Geminids below:


Why are they called the Geminids?

All meteors associated with a shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.”

How fast are Geminids?

Geminids travel 78,000 mph (35 km/s). This is over 1000 times faster than a cheetah, about 250 times faster than the swiftest car in the world, and over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet!

How to observe the Geminids?

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!

Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky. Avoid watching the radiant because meteors close to it have very short trails and are easily missed. When you see a meteor, try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid.

Observing in a city with lots of light pollution will make it difficult to see Geminids. You may only see a handful during the night in that case.

When is the best time to observe Geminids?

The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13/14. Sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere can go out in the late evening hours on Dec. 13 to see some Geminids, but with moonlight and radiant low in the sky, you may not see many meteors.

Best rates will be seen when the radiant is highest in the sky around 2:00 a.m. local time, including the Southern Hemisphere, on Dec. 14. The Moon will set around the same time. Therefore, observing from moonset until twilight on Dec. 14 should yield the most meteors.

You can still see Geminids on other nights, before or after Dec. 13-14, but the rates will be much lower. The last Geminids can be seen Dec. 17.

How many Geminids can observers expect to see Dec. 13/14?

Realistically, the predicated rate for observers in the northern hemisphere is closer to 30-40 meteors per hour. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere will see fewer Geminids than those in the northern hemisphere – perhaps 25% of rates in the Northern Hemisphere.


Although this year’s conditions are not the best for viewing the Geminid meteor shower, it will still be a good show to catch in our night skies.

And, if you want to know what else is in the sky for December, check out the video below from Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s monthly “What’s Up” video series:

Happy viewing stargazers!

by Lance D. Davis

The Geminids: Best Meteor Shower of the Year!

by Lance D. Davis

The Geminids are widely recognized as the best annual meteor shower a stargazer can see, occurring between Dec. 4 to Dec. 17. We will broadcast a live stream of the shower’s peak Dec. 14-15 (changed dates from 13-14 due to weather) from a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, (if our weather cooperates!) from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.

The parent of the Geminids is 3200 Phaethon, which is arguably considered to be either an asteroid or an extinct comet. When the Earth passes through trails of dust, or meteoroids, left by 3200 Phaethon, that dust burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, creating the Geminid meteor shower.

The Geminid rate will be even better this year, as the shower’s peak overlaps with a nearly new moon, so there will be darker skies and no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors. That peak will happen on the night of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14, with some meteor activity visible in the days before and after. Viewing is good all night for the Northern Hemisphere, with activity peaking around 2:00 a.m. local time, and after midnight for viewers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Why are they called the Geminids?

All meteors associated with a shower have similar orbits, and they all appear to come from the same place in the sky, which is called the radiant. The Geminids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, hence the name “Geminids.”

How fast are Geminids?

Geminids travel 78,000 mph (35 km/s). This is over 1000 times faster than a cheetah, about 250 times faster than the swiftest car in the world, and over 40 times faster than a speeding bullet!

2019’s meteor camera data for the Geminids.
An info graphic based on 2019’s meteor camera data for the Geminids. Credit: NASA

How to observe the Geminids?

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!

Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky. Avoid watching the radiant because meteors close to it have very short trails and are easily missed. When you see a meteor, try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid.

When is the best time to observe Geminids?

The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13/14. The shower will peak around 01:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere can see Geminids starting around 7:30 – 8:00 p.m. local time on Dec. 13, with rate of meteors increasing as 2 a.m. approaches. In the Southern hemisphere, good rates will be seen between midnight and dawn local time on Dec. 14. Geminid watchers who observe from midnight to 4 a.m. should catch the most meteors.

How many Geminids can observers expect to see Dec. 13/14?

Realistically, the predicated rate for observers in the northern hemisphere is closer to 60 meteors per hour. This means you can expect to see an average of one Geminid per minute in dark skies at the shower peak. Observers in the southern hemisphere will see fewer Geminids than their northern hemisphere counterparts – perhaps 25% of rates in the northern hemisphere, depending on their latitude.

Where will NASA stream the Geminids meteor shower?

We will broadcast a live stream of the shower’s peak Dec. 13-14 from a meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, (if our weather cooperates!) from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.

Meteor videos recorded by the All Sky Fireball Network are also available each morning to identify Geminids in these videos – just look for events labeled “GEM.”

Happy viewing stargazers!

Sky Watching Highlights for December 2020

In the month of December, stargazers get ready for some excitement in the sky! Catch the year’s best meteor shower, the Geminids, in the middle of the month. Then, witness an extremely close pairing of Jupiter and Saturn that won’t be repeated for decades. And mark the shortest day of the year on the northern winter solstice. Check out the video below produced by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to learn more!

Get Ready Stargazers: The Geminids Are Coming!

The second week of December heralds the beginning of the strongest meteor shower of the year – the Geminids. It’s a good time to bundle up, go outside and watch one of Mother Nature’s best sky shows!

The Geminids are active every December, when Earth passes through a massive trail of dusty debris shed by a weird, rocky object named 3200 Phaethon. The dust and grit burn up when they run into Earth’s atmosphere in a flurry of “shooting stars.”

Phaethon’s nature is debated. It’s either a near-Earth asteroid or an extinct comet, sometimes called a rock comet. There is another object – an Apollo asteroid named 2005 UD – that is in a dynamically similar orbit to Phaethon, prompting speculation that the two were once part of a larger body that split apart or collided with another asteroid.

Most shower meteors are shed by comets when their orbits take them into the inner Solar System, but the Geminids may be the debris from this long-ago breakup or collision event. When you consider that the Geminid meteor stream has more mass than any other meteor shower, including the Perseids, whatever happened back then must have been pretty spectacular.

So what do potential Geminid watchers need to do this year?

It’s pretty simple, actually. The nearly First Quarter Moon sets around 10:30 p.m. local time, so wait until then to go out – the light from the Moon washes out the fainter meteors, which are more numerous. Find the darkest place you can, and give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark. Avoid looking at your cell phone, as it will mess up your night vision. Lie flat on your back and look straight up, taking in as much sky as possible. You will soon start to see Geminid meteors. As the night progresses, the Geminid rate will increase, hitting a theoretical maximum of about 100 per hour around 2 a.m.

Bear in mind, this rate is for a perfect observer under perfect skies with Gemini straight overhead. The actual number for folks out in the dark countryside will be slightly more than 1 per minute. Folks in suburbs will see fewer, 30 to 40 per hour depending on the lighting conditions. And those downtown in major cities will see practically nothing – even though the Geminids are rich in beautiful green fireballs, the lights of New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta will blot even them out. Dark clear skies are the most important ingredient in observing meteor showers.

Comet Wirtanen has a light blue hue in this image taken by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke using an iTelescope widefield 90 mm refractor and color CCD camera Nov. 29 at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

And while you’re scanning the sky for Geminids, you might notice a small, faint “ghostly” green patch in the constellation of Taurus – that’s Comet 46P/Wirtanen, which will be making its closest approach to Earth (7 million miles) for the next 20 years. We are actually going to have a comet visible to the unaided eye this holiday season!

Graphic showing the locations of the Geminid radiant and Comet 46P/Wirtanen for 35 degrees north latitude at 10:30 p.m. on the night of the Geminid peak (December 13).

Comets are notoriously unpredictable beasts, but if Wirtanen continues to follow its current brightening trend, it may reach a peak magnitude of around +3 (about as bright as a star in the handle of the Little Dipper) a couple of days past the Geminid peak, on December 16. Binoculars or a small telescope are good for taking a peak at Wirtanen, so bring them along for your night of Geminid watching. A green comet to complement the green fireballs!

Get Ready for the 2016 Geminids!

The Geminids are a meteor shower that occurs in December every year. The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13 into the early hours of Dec. 14. The Geminid meteor shower is caused by a stream of debris left by the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. When the Earth passes through the trails of dust every December left by 3200 Phaethon, we see the Geminid meteor shower as the dust (meteoroids) burn up in Earth’s atmosphere creating meteors. Geminids travel through Earth’s atmosphere at 78,000 mph and burn up far above the surface.

To observe the Geminids (if it’s not cloudy), get away from bright lights, lay on your back and look up. Let your eyes get adjusted to the dark – you will see more meteors that way. Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t look in one particular direction. This year’s shower is also on the same night as a full (super) moon so viewing the shower will be more difficult. If you see a meteor, try and trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Geminid.

Given clear weather and dark skies, the Geminid meteor shower can be seen by most of the world, though it is best viewed by observers in the northern hemisphere. This year’s bright moon will wash out all but the brightest Geminids, reducing the rate you can see them significantly. You can expect to see an average of one Geminid every few minutes in dark skies at the shower peak in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, the Geminid radiant does not climb very high about the horizon, so observers will see fewer Geminids than their northern counterparts. Most of North America will miss the traditional peak, but because the Geminid activity is broad, good rates will be seen between 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and dawn local time on the morning of Dec. 14. The most meteors should be visible around 2:00 a.m. local time on Dec. 14.

At 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET, engineers & scientists from NASA’s Meteor Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will answer questions on the Geminids during a Reddit Ask Me Anything.

If you are in an area with cloudy skies, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will broadcast footage of the shower (pending clear skies here) starting at 8 p.m. Dec. 13 until 6 a.m. on Dec. 14 on Marshall’s Ustream account. You can also see Geminid meteors on NASA’s All Sky Fireball network page. Follow’s NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office on Facebook for information on meteor showers and fireballs throughout the year.
GeminidMeteorShower2012_JeffDai950 (1)

Geminid Meteor Shower to Peak Dec 13; NASA Experts to Answer Questions Dec. 12

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The annual Geminid meteor shower will peak during the overnight hours of Dec. 13-14, with best viewing typically around 2 a.m. To learn why meteors and comets are important to NASA, the public is invited to join a live Reddit Ask-Me-Anything event at 2 p.m. Dec. 12. Answering your questions will be NASA meteor experts Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. For viewers experiencing clouds, meteor shower footage will be broadcast live from 8 p.m. Dec. 13 until 6 a.m. on Dec. 14 on Marshall’s Ustream account. Social media followers interested in joining the online conversation can tweet questions to Marshall’s Twitter account or share Geminid images by uploading them to the Geminid Meteor photo group on Marshall’s Flickr account.

Join NASA’s Geminid Meteor Shower Tweet Chat on December 13-14

The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of December 13 through the morning of December 14. Geminid rates can get as high as 100 per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky. Best viewing is just before dawn.

NASA Tweet Chat: Observe the Geminid Meteor Shower
On the night of December 13, astronomer Bill Cooke from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will answer questions about the Geminid meteor shower via a live tweet chat. To ask questions, simply use the #askNASA or @NASA_Marshall. Cooke, Rhiannon Blaauw and Danielle Moser will be available to answer questions between the hours of 10 p.m. CST, beginning the evening of December 13, until 2 a.m. December 14 CST.

How to View the Geminid meteor shower
The best opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor shower is during the dark pre-dawn hours of December 14.

For optimal viewing find an open sky – because Geminid meteors come across the sky from many all directions.

Lie on the ground and look straight up into the dark sky. Again, it is important to be far away from artificial lights. Remember, your eyes can take up to thirty minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to adjust

About the Geminids
Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display.

Nature's 'light show' is how NASA describes the Geminid meteor shower - a meteor flash is seen here with an aurora borealis shimmer in Norway
Nature’s ‘light show’ is how NASA describes the Geminid meteor shower – a meteor flash is seen here with an aurora borealis shimmer in Norway

Five Fun Facts for the 2015 Geminid Meteor Shower

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#1. The Geminid meteor shower can be seen from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Because they are pieces of an asteroid, Geminid meteoroids can penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than most other meteor showers, creating beautiful long arcs viewable for 1-2 seconds. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.

Marshall Space Flight Center will host a live Tweet Chat from 10 p.m. Dec. 13, until 2 a.m. on Dec. 14. Meteor experts Dr. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, located at Marshall, will stay up late answering questions via Twitter. NASA followers interested in joining the online conversation can tweet their meteor questions to the Marshall Twitter account, @NASA_Marshall, or simply tag their tweets with #askNASA.

Geminids-2

#2. Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. It was long thought to be an asteroid, but is now classified as an extinct comet.

Phaethon’s eccentric orbit around the sun brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury every 1.4 years. Traveling this close to the sun blasts Phaethon with solar heat that may boil jets of dust into the Geminid stream. Of all the debris streams earth passes through each year, the Geminid shower is the most massive. When we add up the amount of dust in this stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.

Geminids_3

#3. Because they are usually bright, many people say Geminid meteors show color. In addition to glowing white, they have been described as appearing yellow, green, or blue.

Geminid meteoroids hit earth’s atmosphere traveling 78,000 mph or 35 km/s. That may sound fast, but it is actually somewhat slow compared to other meteor showers.

Geminids_4

#4. Geminids are named because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation of Gemini. The shower lasts a couple of weeks, with meteors typically seen Dec. 4-17, peaking near Dec 13-14. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.

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#5. The Geminids started out as a relatively weak meteor shower when first discovered in the early 19th century. Over time, it has grown into the strongest annual shower, with theoretical rates above 120 meteors per hour.

 

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for spotting a Geminid meteor! The 2014 Geminid meteor shower is forecast to be a lively meteor shower with great views in the skies over Earth. The week of Dec. 8 is a good window for Geminid-watching, but the night of Dec. 13-14 is the anticipated peak. Best viewing will be in dark sky locations, away from city lights.

Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display.

On Dec. 13, Cooke and a team of astronomers from Marshall Space Flight Center will host an overnight NASA web chat from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. CDT, answering questions about the Geminid meteor shower. The Geminids are expected to peak just before dawn on Dec. 14, with a predicted peak rate of 100 to 120 meteors per hour.

To join the webchat on Dec. 13, log into the chat page at: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids_2013.html

Geminid_Share

How Do We Know the Russian Meteor and 2012 DA14 Aren't Related?


So how can we tell that the Russian meteor isn’t related to asteroid 2012 DA14?

One way is to look at meteor showers — the Orionids all have similar orbits to their parent comet, Halley. Similarly, the Geminids all move in orbits that closely resemble the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which produced them. So if the Russian meteor was a fragment of 2012 DA14, it would have an orbit very similar to that of the asteroid.

It does not…



If you look at the image, the orbit of the Earth is the green circle. That of 2012 DA14 is the blue ellipse that is almost entirely within the orbit of the Earth; notice that it is close to circular. The other blue ellipse, stretching way beyond the orbit of Mars, is the first determination of the orbit of the Russian meteor. Notice that the two are nothing alike; in fact, they aren’t even close.

This is one reason — a big one — why NASA says the asteroid 2012 DA14 are not connected.

Text/image credit: NASA/MSFC/Meteroid Environment Office