The Geminid meteor shower of 2020 is officially past its peak, but an impressive spectacle should still be waiting for those skywatchers to head out early Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
The official peak of the Geminids fell from Sunday night to early Monday, and it certainly brought in plenty of shooting stars and a few bright, slow fireballs from my icy, dark sky location in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. But ideal conditions for New Moon are Monday evening and Tuesday morning, and there should still be a lot of meteor activity.
Themeteor shower gets a lot of attention for being active during warm summer evenings in the Northern Hemisphere, but the Geminids are actually the strongest most years.
In fact, this is one of the few major meteor showers that doesn’t require you to wake up well before sunrise to catch the best part. According to the American Meteor Society (AMS), the Geminids provide “good activity before midnight, as the Gemini constellation is well placed from 10 pm.”
This simply means that the area of the sky the meteors appear to be coming from is high in the sky early at night. It’s highest around 2 a.m. local time, but if you leave before midnight, you still have a good chance of seeing a lot. Plus, those hours are the best time to see bright, slow-moving “earth grazers” along the horizon.
“I like to look straight south and show the radiant drift westward through my field of vision. This also allows me to monitor the small showers that are active in the same part of the sky,” says Robert Lunsford from AMS.
In short, there’s not a really bad time to look for Geminids. Also not need to stare at Gemini to spot Geminids. The meteors can appear almost anywhere in the night sky, but will usually move away from Gemini.
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If you can do it, all you have to do is dress appropriately, sit back, let your eyes adjust, relax, and watch. The Geminids can range from faint, fleeting “shooting stars” to bright, intensely colored streaks, and maybe even a fireball here and there. You’re more likely to spot meteors in the Northern Hemisphere, but the Geminids are also visible south of the equator, just later in the night and in fewer numbers.
We get meteor showers when Earth drifts through clouds of debris, usually left behind by visiting comets. In the case of the Geminids, the debris comes from the so-called “rock comet”, thought to be a potentially extinct comet wandering the inner solar system.