An early Christmas gift is gracing Canadian skies tonight, as the year’s best meteor shower will brighten the atmosphere.
The Geminid meteor shower, called “a highlight of the meteor year” by EarthSky, is expected to peak on the night of December 13 and into the morning of December 14.
While it is cold, looking up into the sky is one of the things everyone can do while physically distancing. As NASA says, “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,'” says NASA.
So when can observers look for the meteor activity?
This year, the Geiminid’s peak overlaps with a nearly new moon, so skies will be darker and the fainter meteors won’t be washed out by the moonlight.
“Find the darkest place you can, and give your eyes about 30 minutes to adapt to the dark,” says NASA. “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.”
It says that as the night progresses, the Geminid rate will increase, hitting a theoretical maximum of about 100 per hour around 2:00 am.
NASA adds that those in the suburbs will see fewer, 30 to 40 per hour depending on the lighting conditions.
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“Dark clear skies are the most important ingredient in observing meteor showers,” it says.
If you are in an area with cloudy skies, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center says it will broadcast footage of the shower (pending clear skies) from 8:00 pm tonight until 6:00 am tomorrow on its Ustream account.
Besides tonight’s meteor activity, you will want to keep your eyes on the skies this month.
During the first three weeks of December, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer together in the sky than they have in the past 20 years.
The celestial event, according to NASA, is called a “great conjunction,” where the orbits of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn align for a period of time, causing both Jupiter and Saturn to appear remarkably close together during the nighttime.
NASA adds that the pinnacle of the event will be on December 21, when “the two giant planets will appear just a tenth of a degree apart.”
The next time the two planets will appear this close will be 2080, so keep your eyes peeled.