No telescope or star chart? No problem. Even amateur stargazers can feast their eyes on the Geminid meteor shower, a celestial spectacle soon set to light up the night sky.
How can you see the Geminid meteor shower 2020? When? And what actually is it? Find all you need to know is below.
What is a meteor shower?
A meteor shower is a collection of meteorites, streaks of light across the sky caused by space debris – normally dust from a comet or asteroid – burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. Most meteors are only the size of a grain of sand, but their high speed (about 66km/s) ensures they shine brightly.
Astronomers can thank a 5.7-mile-wide asteroid named ‘3200 Phaethon’ for the Geminid meteor shower. Specifically, they can thank the micro-rubble breaking off from Phaethon as it flies by Earth during its year and five-month elliptical orbit through the Solar System.
When is the next Geminid meteor shower?
The Geminid meteor shower peaked from 13 to 14 December, but you should be able to catch some of them anywhere between 4 and 17 December.
How do I see the Geminid meteor shower?
Leave the binoculars at home: for the largest field of vision, it’s best to gaze at the Geminids with your eyes only. Although most meteors will radiate from the constellation of Gemini (hence Geminids), they can be seen in all areas of the night sky. Observe where the meteors originate from and you’ll be able to work out where Gemini is.
When looking for meteors, it’s best to let your eyes adjust to the dark, then look directly up. It can take up to 30 minutes to develop good night vision, so try not to look at your phone in the meantime. Remember, Instagram will still be there when you’re done.
Stargazers can expect around 140-150 shooting stars per hour. They are likely to be bright and a variety of different colours – white, yellow and sometimes green, red and blue, if you’re lucky.
What’s the difference between meteors, comets and asteroids?
Although often used interchangeably (particularly in bad sci-fi), there are key differences:
- Meteors are the bits of rock and dusk that break away from comets and asteroids. A meteorite is what falls through the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Asteroids are masses of rock that orbit the Sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
- Comets, like asteroids, orbit the Sun. However, they’re made of ice and dust rather than rock.