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Strongest meteor shower to illuminate December 14th night skies

Strongest meteor shower to illuminate December 14th night skies Photo: Geminids meteor shower to illuminate December skies (Getty Images)

The Geminid meteor shower of 2023 will peak this week, particularly on December 14th. Renowned as a highlight of the astronomical year, the Geminids are expected to showcase about 150 meteors per hour at their peak. Optimal viewing conditions are anticipated on Wednesday and Thursday nights, enhanced by the absence of moonlight, which makes for an ideal environment for meteor watching, according to Earthsky.

The Geminids, originating from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, produce a meteor shower that appears to emanate from the Gemini constellation.

The 2023 Geminid meteor shower peak is anticipated for December 14 at 19:27 UTC. The best times to observe the Geminids will be during the nights of December 13 and 14, as the shower's radiant rises mid-evening and remains active.

The presence of a young waxing crescent moon during this period means that moonlight will not significantly impact the visibility of the meteor shower. The Geminid meteor shower is active from November 19 to December 24.

Under these dark sky conditions, viewers might see up to 120 Geminid meteors per hour at the peak. The Geminids are known for their bold, bright, and white meteors, making them one of the best meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in years without moonlight interference. They are also visible from the Southern Hemisphere, although at lower rates. The Geminids are known for their abundance, rivaling the famous August Perseids meteor shower.

Viewers are advised to find a location away from urban light pollution, dress warmly, and be patient for the best experience.

No special equipment is needed to see the meteors, which can appear anywhere in the sky. However, weather conditions may impact visibility, so keeping updated with the latest forecasts is recommended.

Annual meteor shower

The Geminids meteor shower occurs annually around the second week of December when Earth passes through the debris left by asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The American Meteor Society has dubbed it the "most dependable" meteor display. The shower is unique as it stems from an asteroid, whereas most other meteor showers come from comets.

The next peak of the Geminids is expected to occur on December 13-14, 2024, continuing its annual dazzle in the December skies.

Asteroids and comets

The Geminid meteor shower is caused by 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid, which is unusual since comets cause most meteor showers. Comets, often described as dirty snowballs, have a solid nucleus covered in ice that sublimates as they near the sun. They typically have lightweight, elongated orbits and show a coma or head when close to the sun. In contrast, asteroids are more like rocks and usually have more circular orbits. Through telescopes, asteroids appear star-like.

The distinction between comets and asteroids has evolved with the advancement of telescopes. Some objects initially classified as asteroids were reclassified as comets after developing comas and tails near the sun. Conversely, comets can become dormant or extinct, transforming into asteroid-like bodies if they lose their volatile materials. 3200 Phaethon, the parent of the Geminid meteor shower, is an example of an object that could be a dormant or extinct comet.

Favorable conditions for Europe

In 2023, the Geminid meteor shower in Europe is expected to be observable under favorable weather conditions. A stable weather pattern, characterized by higher pressure, is anticipated over Western Europe. This is complemented by a minor upper-wave disturbance in Eastern Europe and the Balkan region.

The meteorological conditions will feature an upper-level ridge extending from Western to Central Europe and a high-pressure block over the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkiye. This setup should provide clear and stable conditions ideal for meteor watching. The areas most likely to have good viewing conditions include the Iberian Peninsula, Western Europe stretching up to Scandinavia and the Baltic region, Central Europe, and Turkiye.

Favorable conditions for the U.S.

For skywatchers in the United States, the forecast for the Geminid meteor shower indicates favorable conditions due to a strong blocking weather pattern developing across North America. This pattern will feature an intensifying upper-level ridge over the northern and eastern U.S., including parts of southern Canada, while an upper low will be positioned over Texas.

As a result of this high-pressure block, stable weather conditions are expected to prevail east of the Rocky Mountains. This suggests good viewing prospects for regions such as the Midwest, Northern Plains, Ohio Valley, and the Mid-Atlantic during the peak of the Geminid meteor shower this year.

Also, we recently wrote about five unique astronomical events to observe in December.