At its peak and in a clear, dark sky between 50 and 100 ‘shooting stars’ or meteors may be visible each hour. Meteors are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and super-heating the air around them, which 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’ in the constellation of Gemini, hence the name Geminid. By 2 a.m. on 14 December the radiant will be almost overhead from the UK, making it ideally placed for British observers. As a bonus, the Moon will not be present in the sky on the morning of maximum activity so the prospects for a good view of the shower are excellent. And unlike many astronomical phenomena, meteors are best seen without a telescope and are perfectly safe to watch.
Meteors in the Geminid shower are less well known, probably because the weather in December is less reliable. But those who brave the cold can be rewarded with a fine view. In comparison with other showers, Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly (35 km or 22 miles per second), are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.
Robert Massey | alfa
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