Geminids - The make-a-wish meteors before Christmas

December 07, 2019

The Geminids, which can be observed in mid-December, are the most "reliable" of the large meteor showers with up to 120 shooting stars per hour. Unfortunately, this year the Moon interferes during the best observation time.

They are named after the constellation Gemini: The Geminids always provide a beautiful meteor spectacle in mid-December. This year the nights from the 13th to the 14th and from the 14th to the 15th are particularly interesting: Up to 120 shooting stars per hour are can be seen making their way across the sky. Unfortunately during the best observing time the Moon is high up in the sky, so that about every three minutes a shooting star is visible.

The maximum of the Geminids thus falls on a weekend. If you are looking for the constellation Gemini in the sky, you will quickly find it: It is exactly where the Moon is these days. The two main stars of the twins will still be visible though: Castor and Pollux, a pair of twins known from Greek mythology. If you have a particularly clear sky, you may also be able to see chains of the other stars of the constellation pointing to the right.

Back to the meteors: It looks as if they are coming from the constellation of twins, but this is only a perspective effect like a car ride through a snow shower. The reason for the increased occurrence of shooting stars is that Earth crosses a cosmic dust cloud that was probably left behind by the minor planet (3200) Phaethon - maybe this asteroid broke once and spread the debris on its orbit, which now enter Earth's atmosphere and brighten up as shooting stars.

In contrast to the better known Perseids in summer, observers do not have to waituntil after midnight to see most of the of the Geminid shooting stars. As soon as it gets dark, you can look for them. It is an advantage to look to the east then. Pro tip: Astronomers expect most shooting stars either in the night from the 13th to the 14th of December after midnight or in the late evening of the 14th of December - or in the time in between, but this would be daytime for us.

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