There are over 30 meteor showers throughout the year. But most of them pale in comparison to the Geminids. Nicknamed the "900-pound gorilla of meteor showers" by NASA, they outweigh other dust streams by factors of between 5 to 500! The "shooting stars" are also easier to see because they go through the skies at about 22 miles (35 km) per second. This is almost half the speed of the Perseid meteors, which zip past at 37 miles (60 km) per second.
The Geminids have been active since November 19 and will continue until December 24, 2023. But the best time to see them will be overnight from December 13 to 14, 2023. That is when as many as 120 meteors will be flying through the sky every hour. Even better, this year's peak comes just one night after the new Moon. This means the Moon will not be in the night-time sky, creating near-perfect conditions to watch the show.
The meteor showers are named after the constellation Gemini, from which they appear to come. Unlike most meteor showers, which originate from comets, the Geminids are the result of a near-Earth asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. The 3.16 mile-wide (5.1-km) space rock orbits the Sun every 524 days. It gets so close to the star that its surface heats up to about 1500°F (816°C). This causes the asteroid to shed rocky debris the size of sand grains or peas. Over the centuries, the tiny pieces left behind by the asteroid have formed a "river of rubble."
Earth encounters the debris annually in mid-December during its orbit around the Sun. When the particles collide with our planet's outer atmosphere, they burn and transform into spectacular "shooting stars." The Geminids favor the Northern Hemisphere. But the meteors are also visible from the Southern Hemisphere.
Here are some expert tips for those planning to watch this year's final meteor shower. Bundle up and get as far away as possible from city lights. More importantly, be patient. It takes between 10 and 15 minutes for the eyes to adjust to the dark skies and then about as long to observe a flashing meteor.
Resources: usatoday.com, earthsky.org, smithsonianmag.com