Why Tonight's Geminid Meteor Shower May Be the Best One Ever

The increasingly bright shower has the stage of a black sky tonight.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: The Geminids are the best meteor shower of the year. This “king of meteor showers” produces up to 120 meteors of mostly white and yellow color (though some are blue and red) per hour at its peak, known as the “zenithal hourly rate.” Here’s why astronomers say the increasingly bright Geminids shower tonight will be the best one yet.

How to See the 2018 Geminids Meteor Shower

First, a little background: The shower occurs from December 7 to 17 each year as Earth passes through a dusty trail of space debris broken off from a “weird” space object — more on that below — and that debris disintegrates in the Earth’s atmosphere, becoming the shower e see. In 2018, the shower peaks on the night of December 13, which is tonight, Thursday, and into the wee hours of Friday morning, December 14. The meteors rain down a little after 9 p.m. and hits its peak at 2 a.m.

The good news is that the first-quarter moon will have set by then, leaving the sky dark for the shower. “Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky,” advises the sky guide SeaSky.org. Your best bet is to face south to spot the meteor shower, though.

Because of tonight’s Geminids meteor shower peak, Google dedicated its Google Doodle to the celestial event with a seven-panel illustration that shows the meteor shower’s path into Earth’s atmosphere.

“With each passing year since the mid-1800s, the proliferation of yellowish streaks of light in the night-time sky have grown more intense,” writes Google in its Doodle explanation that accompanies the doodle which is showing up on Google homepages in more than 20 countries today.

In 2017, a “super moon” made seeing the shower difficult because it lit up the night sky, which won’t be a factor this year. You won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see the shower, either.

Will a Geminids Shower Meteor Hit Earth?

There’s very little chance of this happening because the meteors disintegrate more than 24 miles above Earth.

How to See the 2018 Geminids Meteor Shower in a City

If you live in a city that has a lot of light pollution, head over to the website for Slooh — the robotic telescope service — for a special Geminids webcast starting at 6 p.m. Eastern.

This panel from Thursday's Google Doodle shows the asteroid 3200 Phaethon as it passes the sun, leaving meteors in its wake.
This panel from Thursday's Google Doodle shows the asteroid 3200 Phaethon as it passes the sun, leaving meteors in its wake.

Asteroid 3200 Phaethon Will Be Visible this Year

The asteroid 3200 Phaethon (named for the son of the Greek god Apollo) is the source of the meteor shower — chunks of it break off as it passes by the sun and those meteors pass by Earth — and will also be visible this year. The shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini, from which it appears to radiate. The meteors themselves derive from old debris from 3200 Phaethon, which is more of a “rock comet” instead of an asteroid. It’s lost most of its ice because of the proximity of its path to the sun. The remnants of the ice create a trail of debris that moves rather slowly and burns brightly as the Earth passes through each December.

You don’t have to find yourself looking in one particular direction, or use any telescopes or fancy optical instruments. You just need to find a place relatively free of light pollution and obstructing clouds, and lean back. Just remember to bundle up.

1:36 p.m. Eastern: This story has been updated with further details about the Geminids meteor shower.

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