Meteor shower: mark the strongest of 2022 in your calendar

Meteor shower: mark the strongest of 2022 in your calendar

Meteor shower: mark the strongest of 2022 in your calendar

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The best chance to see the strongest meteor shower of the year is coming this week.

The Geminids, known for their bright, intensely colored meteors, have been shooting across the night sky since late November and the storm will peak on the night of December 13/14. according to the American Meteor Society.

“If you had to pin one (meteor shower) as the best of the year year after year, it would be the Geminids,” said Robert Lunsford, fireball report coordinator for the association. “Normally, let’s say the suburban area, you could probably see 30 to 40 meteors (an hour) under good conditions.”

With clear skies and no bright lights in the way, the Geminids can appear at a rate of about 120 visible meteors per hour, according to NASA. However, there is no escaping the great beacon in the sky that will eclipse most of the fainter meteors this year: the moon will shine at 72% fullness, according to the American Meteor Society.

“It’s still going to be a good shower, even with the moon,” said Bill Cooke, chief of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “Find a fairly dark sky, find something blocking the moon, maybe a building or a tree, and look away from the moon at the sky.”

First observed in the mid-19th century, the shower initially delivered up to 20 visible meteors per hour. Since then, the Geminids have reappeared every year and become stronger in number. By the 1960s, the event had surpassed the substantial August Perseids, once the stronger shower with hourly rates of 50 to 100 meteors.

It’s unclear how the Geminids will change in the near future, Cooke said, with some models indicating the storm will increase in intensity and others a gradual decline over the coming decades.

The Geminids are unique in that their source is the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, while most other meteor showers form from debris from icy comets. That’s why Geminid flows can be unpredictable — because it’s harder to model asteroid breakup, Cooke said.

The asteroid 3200 Phaethon is unusual in itself, behaves like a comet as it approaches the sun. It also has an orbit, which it completes about every 1.4 years, that is closer to the sun than any other asteroid. When 3200 Phaethon is near Earth, the asteroid sheds its dusty debris, hence the Geminids display.

The Geminids are active from November 19 to December 24, according to EarthSky, but their hourly rates don’t begin to increase by double digits until Dec. 10, Lunsford said.

The shower is known for being family friendly and a good one for young viewers in North America to observe as it is the single major storm that shows the most activity before midnight. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, which will appear in the sky around 10 p.m. ET, Lunsford said.

“You can observe when the radiant is highest, which is between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. ET with moonlight, or you can try looking earlier in the evening when the moon is still below the horizon,” Lunsford said. “The rates will probably be pretty similar at those times as well.”

The Geminids will be visible from all parts of the world, but for the southern hemisphere it’s best to look towards the middle of the night at 2 a.m. local time, as the radiant must be highest to be seen. The position of the radiant will be low on the horizon and will also cause the meteors to appear at a slower speed, Lunsford said.

According to NASA’s meteor camera data, the Geminids shower is one of the best for producing fireballs, meteors brighter than the planet Venus, second only to the Perseids, Cooke said. The largest and brightest Geminids meteors are often said to be greenish in color.

The moon’s illumination has affected Geminids viewing for the past two years, but the meteor shower is expected to do so too happen around a new moon in 2023, create perfect viewing conditions.

“When you see a meteor burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, you’re seeing something that’s been in space for a long time,” Cooke said. “From a scientific perspective, by studying it, we can learn something about what those comets are made of. To the casual observer, they are a beautiful firework (display) – meteor showers are nature’s fireworks.

The next and last major annual meteor shower of 2022 will be the Ursids, peaking on the evening of December 22. according to EarthSky.

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