Though this year's only visible supermoon has passed, another celestial event will soon light up skies in the wee hours of the morning next week: The Geminid meteor shower.
Between the late night of December 13 and early the next morning, the 2017 Geminid meteors will rain from the night sky, peaking at about 2 A.M. local time, Elizabeth Howell writes for Space.com. At its strongest, stargazers can expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour. The shower will run between midnight and 4 A.M., reports Jane Houston for NASA's What's Up Podcast.
Viewers don’t need to buy any equipment to spot the winks of light; however, traveling as far as possible from man-made lights will make for the most ideal viewing experience. The meteors will appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini, which is how the shower got its name. The constellation represents the mythical twin sons of Zeus and the mortal Ledakan, and sits adjacent to Orion the hunter.
The Geminid meteor shower is considered to be among the best annual shows because of the brightness and speed of the fiery streaks, but they haven't always been around. According to the Library of Congress, the first definitive observations of the Geminids was recorded in 1862, but some evidence suggests they could have started as early as 1833.
The annual show takes place as Earth passes through the debris trailing behind a three-mile wide asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. The debris burns up in our atmosphere, forming glittery streaks across the sky. Most other meteor showers are caused by Earth passing through the tail of comets, so the Geminids asteroidal source makes this meteor shower unique.
The typically cold and cloudy December weather drives people away from the otherwise spectacular shower, Dave Samuhel writes for Accuweather. The weather service predicts lower-than-normal temperatures across the country during next week’s shower, especially in the Rocky Mountains. Even if the temperature is bitter cold, that frosty arctic air usually means clear skies.
Don't worry if you can't stay awake for the celestial show, another shower is on its way later this month. The Ursids will pass through Dec. 22 and the morning of Dec. 23, according to NASA. This shower, which gets its name from the Ursa Minor constellation, will appear just above the Little Dipper. The Geminids, however, promise to put on a better show, Andrew Fazekas reports for National Geographic. The Ursids will only produce 10 to 15 glints of light per hour, but the occasional burst could produce 30 or more meteors per hour.