The Geminid Radiant is a annual meteor shower that can be seen from the first week in December to the third. For the Northern Hemisphere, it is a sky-watching paradise, as the viewing gets better each night. From the 6th to the 18th, the number of fireballs streaking across the sky will increase steadily from 20 an hour, to over 75 on December 13th and 14th. Balls of flame will leave brilliant orange trails, gradually winding down over a few days, until moving out of normal sight on the 18th.
For those in the Southern Hemisphere, viewing is limited because the Radiant does not climb far enough above the horizon, but during the peak on the 13th and 14th, meteors can be seen at an expected rate of 20 an hour.
Known as the Geminid Radiant because it appears to originate from the Gemini constellation, this meteor shower was discovered in the 1860’s and then had a peak rate of 30 meteors an hour. Rates have increased drastically over the last 150 years and now include great amounts of glowing green meteors that resemble UFO’s.
Geminid’s source, or parent, was in question for many years before it was agreed to be an asteroid currently orbiting our solar system. Officially titled 3200 Phaethon, it is believed to originate from an asteroid belt that boarders our galaxy.
This year, the Moon will not be visible during the Geminid Radiant and the location of the shower will put it in the ideal position for sky-watching. Often called the most reliable meteor shower of the year, it
always puts on a show worth getting up early or staying up late for. This awesome sight will not come around again for another year, so get out there and look at the sky!
The best time for viewing begins around 2 am, because as the Earth turns toward the coming dawn, the forward velocity has the effect of ‘sucking in’ more meteors and making them more visible.
Also, there are other showers occurring at this time. To verify what you see is part of the Geminid Radiant, trace the meteors ‘tail’, the fiery streak, to the constellation Gemini. If you end up somewhere else, it is from a different meteor shower. For printable maps of the constellations, use the link below.
December is cold and if not active and properly dressed, it can be dangerous to view these showers. Never go to sleep outside while sky-watching. Dress in layers, keep the warm drinks flowing, and enjoy the spectacular sight of the unknown streaking through the night, reminding us there is still no greater force than nature.