A Stargazer's Guide to the 2021 Geminid Meteor Shower: When It Will Peak and How to Watch

The Geminids are considered the "best and most reliable annual meteor showers," according to NASA

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Photo: Getty

Mark your calendars and set your alarms because the Geminid meteor shower is upon us, expecting to peak during the late evening of Dec. 13 into the early morning on Dec. 14 at 2 a.m. local time.

According to NASA, the Geminids are recognized as the "best and most reliable annual meteor showers." You can anticipate a starry night because they often exhibit 50 or more meteors per hour near their peak. An optimum Geminid display could produce around 120 meteors per hour!

They tend to give off a greenish, yellow hue and shoot very fast. In 2018, a video went viral after a police officer accidentally captured breathtaking footage of the green fireballs on his dash camera in Indiana.

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Stargazers should expect an exceptional display this year if watching from a dark location. A waxing gibbous moon will stand above the horizon during its peak hour but darken the sky shortly after as it sets.

Given the moon's partial interference, the best time to watch the celestial spectacle is on Dec. 14 before dawn (anytime after 3 a.m. until sunrise). This specific window is narrow, but definitely worth looking!

If you don't want to commit to those hours, you have another option. Since the Geminids tend to be bold, white, and bright, there's a possible chance to catch a glimpse during the moonlit hours as well.

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NASA considers these the "best" showers for younger gazers since the show starts around 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. It can be viewed from any location in the world – although this shower favors Earth's Northern hemisphere.

The Geminid shower flies from the Gemini constellation, also known as its radiant point. The spectacle is expected to peak around 2 a.m. because that's the time the constellation will be at its highest in the sky.

Even though the best viewing time is in the early morning, the Geminids are the "one major shower that provides good activity prior to midnight as the constellation of Gemini is well placed from 22:00 onward," reported the American Meteor Society.

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The Geminids' radiant point "nearly coincides with the bright star Castor in Gemini," according to EarthSky.org.

The golden star Pollux of Gemini also sits near Castor. It can be fun to star spot, but not essential for locating the meteors. Whether you're facing the constellation or have your back towards it, the showers can be viewed anywhere in the sky.

Need some tips for viewing? The space organization's got you covered. NASA suggests finding a location far away from city or street lights, lying on the ground, and staring straight up (taking in as much of the sky as possible).

After approximately 30 minutes, your eyes should become adjusted to the darkness, and you will begin to see meteors. Don't forget to prepare for the winter temperatures, and have patience while watching.

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Meteors derive from leftover asteroid bits and particles and leave a dusty trail behind when they come around the sun. The Earth passes through the debris trails annually, allowing these objects to collide with Earth's atmosphere. This is where "they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky," according to NASA.

The Geminids originate from the 3200 Phaethon asteroid, unlike most meteors that come from comets. Astronomers consider Phaethon to be classified as a "dead comet," or a new object called a "rock comet."

An asteroid as wide as the Eiffel Tower named 4660 Nereus is expected to skim by the Earth on Dec. 11. It poses no threat and is viewed as potentially advantageous for future spacecraft missions and scientific research.

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