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The Geminid meteor shower, the last major such event of 2012, could well become one of the most brilliant of the year. The showers are expected to peak between 13 December and 14 December. The meteor stream is named for the pieces of debris, NASA informs us, from an object called 3200 Phaethon.
Unfortunately, Phaethon itself is a bit of a mystery artefact and contemporary speculation oscillates between it being either an asteroid or an extinct comet, depending on either levels of brightness or orbit.
"Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky. Small ones appear as tiny, quick streaks. Occasional brighter ones may sail across the heavens for several seconds and leave a brief train of glowing smoke," Sky & Telescope magazine writes, adding, "If you trace each meteor's direction of flight backward far enough across the sky, you'll find that this imaginary line crosses a spot in Gemini near Castor and Pollux. Gemini is in the eastern sky during evening and high overhead in the hours after midnight (for sky watchers at north temperate latitudes)."
The showers were first noticed in the 1830s, with reports, at the time, listing about 20 sightings per hour. Today, however, it is possible to see as many as 120 meteors per hour. What's more... unlike Perseid or Leonid showers, the Geminids are actually quite colourful and do sometimes appear as yellow, red, green or even blue. In fact, given the right conditions, about one in four meteors appear yellow.
When to Watch Live
EarthSky reports 2012 is likely to be a favourable year to watch the Geminids because there will be no moon in the sky, meaning the light from the meteors will likely be at its maximum. The report further adds that viewers should begin watching for meteors from around 9 pm to 10 pm (local time, wherever you may be) but also warns that the absolute best time to watch for Geminids will likely be between 1 am to 3 am (local time, wherever you may be).
Viewers should also be warned the Geminids tend to be most visible from the Northern Hemisphere. Those south of the Equator may still be able to see some meteors though.
Where to Watch Live
If you are unable to watch the showers outdoors, NASA offers live streaming video. The space organisation's light-activated camera, situated at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama will switch on at sunset on both dates.
Here are some to watch the Geminid meteor showers:
- Find an area away from city lights
- Unlike the Leonid showers, it might be advisable to bring binoculars or a telescope; the naked eye may not be enough to see the shower
- Wear appropriate clothing for overnight temperatures. Keep in mind that this time of the year the nights can get rather cold, so it is also advisable to bring some warm drinks - coffee, tea or hot chocolate is a good idea
- Have something comfortable to sit on - a good reclining chair, sleeping bag or ground pad (experts suggest you lie flat on your back and look straight up)
- Be patient and watch for at least a half an hour to give your eyes time to adjust to the lack of light
- If you need to look at something here on Earth, use a red light. It won't diminish your night vision, as white light will