The Geminid meteor shower, expected to peak late Thursday and early Friday, promises to be the astronomical apex of 2018. With hundreds of meteors sailing across the night skies, Earthlings are in for quite a sight. And best of all, Thursday’s weather in the Bay Area is expected to cooperate nicely: Forecasts call for clear skies with inland temperatures dipping into the mid-40s.
The slow-moving Geminids are unique because they’re only one of two showers that originate from an asteroid instead of a comet. And with their full basket of meteors annually piercing the night sky for as many as eight hours, the Geminids are a favorite among astronomers.
Here are some things to know about tonight’s display:
When does the shower take place?
The Geminids can be seen each year, weather-permitting, in December, peaking between Dec. 6-14 with this year’s highest intensity coming early Friday.
What times are best for viewing?
Another thing that makes Geminids a fan favorite is that you can start to see them as early as 7:30 p.m. local time, which means you don’t have to stay up way past your bedtime to enjoy the show. Experts say the show really gets good after midnight; if you DO want to stay up even later than that, you can continue to watch the meteors until just before dawn.
What makes the Geminids special?
Many experts say the Geminids shower is the best one each year because it faithfully produces dozens, and as many as 160, meteors per hour. Many of these meteors are so bright that they are considered to be fireballs, which are meteors that are brighter than the planet Venus.
When were they first discovered?
Geminids were first observed in 1862, which kind of makes them the new kid on the block. The Perseids shower was first seen in 36 AD, while the Leonids shower was first reported in 902.
What are we actually looking at?
Here’s how NASA puts it: “Those streaks of light are really caused by tiny specks of comet-stuff hitting Earth’s atmosphere at very high speed and disintegrating in flashes of light.”
What else should we know about these meteors?
First, they often appear yellowish in color. People watching the shower in the northern hemisphere will see more meteors than viewers in the southern hemisphere. The meteors will be traveling at about 22 miles per second, which makes them relatively easy to spot and track. Finally, they disintegrate and vanish while they reach 24 miles above the Earth’s surface.
What’s the best way to watch the shower tonight?
Take the kids out at 9 p.m., before tucking them in for the night. Then stay up later if you can, and sit back and enjoy the fireworks. The meteors will be visible from one end of the night sky to the other. So find a comfortable spot in a place that has the maximum open view of the sky, then lay back. Since the moon sets tonight about 11 p.m., the viewing should start out good and just get better by the hour.
Where are good places to see the shower?
You want to watch as dark of a piece of the sky as you can find, which means leaving the city lights behind. Also, avoid tall buildings and trees.
Do I need binoculars to see the meteors?