At its peak and in a clear, dark sky, tens of ‘shooting stars’ or meteors may be visible each hour. Image Credit: Asim Patel
From 13 to 15 December, weather permitting, skywatchers will be looking up as the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak, in potentially one of the best night sky events of the year.
At its peak and in a clear, dark sky, tens of ‘shooting stars’ or meteors may be visible each hour (the theoretical maximum under ideal conditions is about 120 an hour). Meteors are the result of small (millimetre- to centimetre-sized) particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and superheating the air around them, which then shines as a characteristic short-lived streak of light. In this case the debris is associated with the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.
The meteors appear to originate from a ‘radiant’ point in the constellation of Gemini, hence the name Geminid. By 2am GMT the radiant will be almost overhead as seen from the UK, making it ideally placed for observers. As a bonus, the Moon will not be present in the sky for most of the night during ...