Each December, stargazers are treated to the year’s grand finale meteor shower known as the Geminids. This dazzling two week spectacle is one of the 10 biggest annual meteor showers, and considered one of the “best and most reliable” by astronomers. So without further ado, here are some fun facts about the Geminids:
1: The Geminids are so named because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation of Gemini. However, they are in fact caused by the Earth crossing the dusty debris trail of an asteroid (or possibly an extinct comet) called 3200 Phaethon, which then enters and incinerates in the Earth’s atmosphere producing the spectacular Geminids Meteor Shower.
2: The Geminids Meteor Shower begins around the 7th of December and peaks on the 13th/14th, when more than 50-80 meteors can be seen per hour. However, each year the intensity of the showers seems to be increasing and recent Geminids have produced as many as 120–160 meteors per hour.
3: The Geminids are unique in the solar system in that most annual meteor showers are identified with active comets, where as the Geminids are thought to be caused by the Palladian asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon. It has been speculated that when Phaeton was young it got caught in Saturn‘s orbit and now passes by the Earth every year leaving behind its debris trail. In 2093, the asteroid will make one of its closest approaches and pass within 3 million kilometres of the Earth.
4: The Geminids are one of the few meteor showers that can be seen from both the northern and southern hemispheres. The Geminids are also able to reach deeper and burn lower in Earth’s atmosphere than many other meteor storms, creating beautiful long arcs which last a second or two.
5: Another extra special feature of the Geminids is the colour of the meteors it produces, which in addition to glowing white also can appear yellow, blue, red and green.
6: The Geminids were first discovered in 1862 but its the parent asteroid 3200 Phaethon wasn’t identified for almost another 150 years, in 1983.
Viewing The Geminids Meteor Shower
7: The Geminids Meteor Shower can best be observed by first locating the constellation of Gemini. Gemini can be found by locating Orion and then following a line north through Rigel and Betelgeuse. This beautiful zodiacal constellation has two parallel lines of stars representing the famous twins from Greek mythology known as Pollux and Castor. These are also the names of Gemini’s brightest stars.
8: Under optimal conditions, the Geminids can be viewed much earlier than most meteor showers at around 9pm but gain strength between midnight and dawn, with their peak around 2am.
9: Although optical aids such as a telescope or binoculars are not necessary to view the Geminid meteor shower, they will allow you to see greater numbers of meteors and their colours more vividly.