This month, stargazers will be treated to a special display from the Geminids Meteor Shower. On a dark night, away from artificial light pollution, you might see up to 120 meteors (or “shooting stars”) an hour!
The Geminids meteor shower is generated from asteroid 3200 Phaethon and is one of the most active and best meteor showers to see. Since the asteroid’s discovery on 11th October 1983, by NASA’s Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), Phaethon has gone around the sun nearly 24 times. Phaethon is 5.1kms across and is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids classified as “potentially hazardous” by NASA. Astronomers have closely monitored this asteroid and there is no high threat level in the foreseeable future.
Take a virtual tour to see how the Geminids Meteor Shower is generated with this terrific 3D interactive model.
When to look: From midnight until early morning, 13th and 14th December. The Geminids peak on the 14th but try nights either side as well. The meteor shower is active for a couple of weeks.
Which direction to look: North east and north about 45 degrees above the horizon
Do I need a telescope to see a meteor shower?
You don’t need a telescope or binoculars to see a meteor shower. It’s a great time to gather with friends, roll out your favourite picnic rug, pack the drinks and snacks, and start counting how many “shooting stars” you all see!
It’s best to view a meteor shower under a dark night sky. Most meteors will be quite faint so darker surroundings will make it easier to see them. You might consider heading out to a dark sky location at one of WA’s Astrotourism Towns. If you’re an astrophotographer, it is an excellent opportunity to image meteors over some of WA’s iconic landscapes. Where are WA’s Astrotourism Towns? Fingers crossed for a spectacular show!
What’s the Moon phase and how will it affect viewing?
During the Geminids this year, the Moon will be almost new! This sets the stage for a great Geminids Meteor Shower this year, so make sure you head outside and look up!
What is a meteor shower?
Meteors are caused by debris entering Earth’s atmosphere. The debris can be as small as a grain of sand which burns up in the atmosphere and causes a bright streak of light to appear briefly in our night sky. The debris that causes a meteor can be travelling between 11 to 73 km/second.
A meteor shower is a time when you see lots of “shooting stars”. They are the result of Earth passing through the trail of debris left by a comet or other object that has come into our Solar System and orbited around the Sun.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation where the “shooting stars” appear to be coming from. In the case of the Geminids Meteor Shower, the meteors come from the direction of the constellation of Gemini. If you have a handy smart phone app that helps you identify objects in the night sky, search for Gemini, and you’ll be looking in the right location.
You might like to…
Become a Citizen Scientist and report meteor sightings! If you happen to see a very bright meteor (often referred to as a “fireball”), WA’s Fireballs in the Sky team based at Curtin University would love to know! Download the Fireballs in the Sky App and keep your eyes peeled!
Where's the Best Place to see a Meteor Shower?
You need a good dark night sky for the best view! Choose an Astrotourism Town destination. Happy meteor hunting!