Geminid meteor shower set for a good show on 13th December

With the current forecast being for clear skies, and with the new moon resulting in a darker night than normal, the peak of the Geminid meteor shower on the evening of the 13th December promises to be a good show this year.

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the debris trail left by a passing comet. In the case of the Gemind meteor shower, the culprit is an object called 3200 Phaethon, which was first discovered in 1862 and is known to orbit the Sun once every 1.43 years. Meteor showers provide us with a better chance of seeing a meteor or 'shooting star' - these are small pieces of rock or dust that enter and burn up in the atmosphere, creating bright trails across the night sky.

Stellarium Screenshot
Stellarium image of the night sky at 10pm on the 13th December.

The meteors from the Geminid shower will start close to a point known as the radiant (from where the imitation meteor tracks in the image appear to originate from) which is in the constellation of Gemini - hence the name of the meteor shower. The number of meteors will peak around the 13th December, when we pass through the centre of the comet trail. During this period we can expect to see around 120 - 160 meteors per hour, which is up from the usual 5 or 6 per hour we can expect on a typical night.

The best time to observe will be around 2am on the morning of the 14th December, when the radiant of the meteor shower reaches its highest point in the sky - please note that it will be above the southern horizon at this time. Our advice would be to head out at around 10pm with some warm clothing, a hot drink and a comfy chair, and keep your eyes looking in the general direction of Gemini (see image above), which can be found above the Eastern horizon. Be aware that the meteors will only last a fraction of a second and can appear anywhere in the sky, so you have to concentrate hard .... blink and you'll miss them.