The Geminid meteor shower 2012, the final major meteor shower of every year and likely to be the best, peaks overnight Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, and you may be able to see a great show on either side of those dates.
If you liked the 2012 Perseids meteor shower in August, you should love this sky show. NASA reports that the Geminids are a relatively young meteor shower, with the first sightings occurring in the 1830s with rates of about 20 per hour. The rates have increased over the decades, regularly spawning between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.
Tips for best viewing
"With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers," Earthsky reports. "Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14."
Here are some viewing tips:
To watch meteors, you need a dark sky. So, if you care to join thousands across the nation in viewing the shower, park yourself at a good viewing spot and enjoy the show.
So where to watch locally? Eisenhower Observatory volunteer Ron Schmit, who's introduced visitors to the observatory for about 15 years, said it's best to find an open area away from city lights. Both Valley Park and Burnes Park are options in Hopkins.
But places outside the lights of the metro area are even better. If you're willing to travel, the Onan Observatory at Baylor Regional Park in Noorwood Young America just west of the Twin Cities is an option. The observatory is free to visit, but a parking pass is required to enter the park. The Staring Lake Observatory in Eden Prairie will have a star-watching event on Dec. 14.
Meteors won’t usually be seen near the horizon, so Schmit suggests reclining back to look up at the night sky. “The best place to watch is to just get a lawn chair and lay back."
Since just waiting on meteors to appear isn’t necessarily exciting—especially for little ones—Schmit recommends using the waiting periods to look at other features in the night sky in between watching meteors.
What are the Geminids?
The Geminid meteor shower is named after the constellation Gemini, which is located in roughly the same point of the night sky where the Geminid meteor shower appears to originate.
Geminids are pieces of debris from 3200 Phaethon, basically a rocky skeleton of a comet that lost most of its meat and skin—its outer covering of ice—after too many close encounters with the sun.
Most meteors meet the Earth's atmosphere, burning up in a brilliant light show, when the planet passes through the tail of a comet as the comet's orbit nears the Earth.
Strangely, the Geminids appear not when a comet's tail swings by, but when the Earth comes in contact with the particles associated with an indistinct, rocky object that doesn't have a tail, detected by NASA in 1983 and named 3200 Phaethon. Scientists speculate that 3200 Phaethon may be a chip from a nearby asteroid.
Are the predictions for the 2012 showers reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.
Your best bet is to go outside at the suggested time—and hope.