December 13, 2010

Geminid Meteor Showers Reach Peak Early Tuesday Morning

Monday evening and Tuesday morning will provide the peak time to enjoy the 2010 Geminid meteor shower.

Astronomy aficionados in most parts of the world will be able to see what the AFP news agency dubs "the best meteor shower of the year" through December 16.

To celebrate the celestial event, NASA conducted a special "Up All Night" online event, and will continue to show live audio and video of the Geminids from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama through Thursday.

According to the U.S. space agency, "Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun."

"Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini," NASA added in a statement posted to their website Monday. "When the Geminids first appeared in the late 19th century"¦ the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display."

During the peak period, provided skies are clear and dark enough, stargazers can see as many as 100 meteors per hour, reports Steven Morris of the Guardian. Furthermore, Morris notes that the Geminid meteors move at a relatively slow pace of about 22 miles per second, and have a bright yellow color that makes them "distinct" and easy for people to track.

"Most of the world is positioned for a great view. Only if you live below 50 degrees (South) latitude are you unable to see the Geminids, ruling out Antarctica, unfortunately," NASA expert Rhiannon Blaauw told AFP reporters on Monday, adding that most people could see between 50 and 80 meteors per hour through early morning Tuesday, and 30 to 40 per hour starting Tuesday night.

"The meteors will appear to come from the Gemini radiant, but looking directly at Gemini is not the best way to view them. If you just look straight up you should catch the most," Blaauw added.


Image Caption: Star trails and a Geminids meteor over Georgia in 1985. Credit: (c) Jimmy Westlake (via NASA)


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