2012’s Final Meteor Shower Peaks This Week

A photograph of the Geminid meteor shower, taken at Valley of the Fire State Park in NevadaIf you’re into astronomy, you’re in for a treat this week.

The Geminid meteor shower has begun.

And it’s expected to peak on Thursday night and early Friday morning.

What does that mean?

If you’re lucky, you might see as many as 120 meteors an hour between sunset and sunrise –maybe more.

And according to the experts, you’ll be able to see them with your bare eyes – no telescope needed.

“The Geminid shower is one of the most active of any year and usually produces a good percentage of bright meteors,” said Richard Talcott, a senior editor at Astronomy Magazine.  “(And) this year … conditions are excellent.”

By that, he means the moon will set soon after sunset that night.

So there won’t be any bright moonlight to block your view.

“Because there is no moon in the sky right at that time, it should be a good show,” said Kelly Beatty, a senior contributing editor at Sky and Telescope Magazine, in an interview with Boston radio station WGBH.

The Geminid meteor shower got its name because when you look at the sky, the meteors appear to be coming from a constellation of stars called Gemini.

Actually, experts say the Geminid meteors are little pieces of rock and metal from an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon.

(An asteroid is a type of rocky object that orbits the sun.  Asteroids are much smaller than planets.)

According to the experts, when an asteroid or comet passes close to the sun, some of the ice surrounding the object melts.

And that releases small rocks and other pieces of debris that were attached to the ice.

When those little pieces of debris enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they flame up.

That’s what you see when you’re watching a meteor.

The Geminid meteor shower has been getting even more intense in recent years, according to National Geographic News.

Why?

Because experts say the Earth’s orbit is moving deeper and deeper into the stream of debris that 3200 Phaethon leaves behind.

Another reason:  Astronomers say the Geminid meteors tend to travel more slowly across the sky and stay up longer.

And that makes for good viewing.

What’s the best place to see the Geminids?

“At least 40 miles from a major city,” Talcott said.

That’s because city light can also block the meteors from view.

What if you can’t get that far away?

“Any park that has just a little clearing, like a baseball diamond, that you can go crawl out into the middle of and shield yourself from the bright lights around you would be good,” Beatty told WGBH.

In case you’re concerned about your safety during a meteor shower, the experts say not to worry.

Meteors tend to be small objects.

And they always burn up in the sky.

If they reach the ground, they’re called meteorites.

But according to experts, the Geminid meteor shower is not known to produce meteorites.

 

If you’re going to look for the Geminids right after sunset, experts say you should look toward the east.

Around midnight, the best view is right overhead, they say.

And after midnight, you should look high in the western sky.

“If you’re stuck at home, go into your backyard and find a spot where there are no bright lights directly in your view,” Beatty said, according to WGBH’s Edgar B. Herwick III.

So if you’re looking for something fun to do Thursday night, ask your mom or dad if you can go outside after dark and do some meteor-watching.

Then set back, relax and enjoy the show.