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Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks ~

December 2012 guide to the five visible planets

The peak night of the 2012 Geminid meteor shower is expected to be from late evening tonight (Thursday, December 13) until dawn tomorrow (Friday, December 14). As a general rule, the shower intensifies after midnight and produces the greatest number of meteors for a few hours, centered around 2 a.m. That’s true no matter where you are around the globe. The Geminids are a reliable and prolific shower, offering perhaps 50 meteors per hour in a dark sky.

What’s the best way to watch a meteor shower? You need to get away from city lights and find a wide open view of the sky. City, state and national parks are good, and you might be able to camp and make a night of it. Enjoy the comfort of a reclining lawn chair – the warmth of a sleeping bag – a thermos with a hot drink – a snack – and possibly star maps with a red flashlight, if you want them (you won’t need them to enjoy the meteors).

Give your eyes at least 20 minutes time to adapt to the dark. Often, meteors come in spurts and are interspersed by lulls. So give yourself at least an hour to watch the Geminids.

The Geminids rank as one of the best meteor showers for the year in the Northern Hemisphere. You can also see this shower from the tropical and subtropical regions in the Southern Hemisphere. Farther south, the radiant of the Geminid meteor shower never gets very high in the sky, so the meteors are not as prevalent at temperate southerly latitudes.

The star Castor in the constellation Gemini nearly coinicides with the radiant point of the annual Geminid meteor shower

This meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini the Twins. If you trace the paths of all the Geminid meteors backward, they appear to radiate from the certain point in front of Gemini. This point is called the meteor shower radiant, and is located near the star Castor.

Just remember, you don’t have to find the meteor shower radiant to see the

Geminid meteors, for these meteors shoot all over the sky. You don’t need special equipment – only a dark, open sky. Simply look upward and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Radiant point for December’s Geminid meteor shower

Most meteor showers take place when our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet. The comet debris plunges into Earth’s upper atmosphere, and the vaporizing particles fill the night with meteors. But the Geminid meteor shower appears to be an oddity. The shower’s parent body appears to be a near-Earth asteroid, rather than a comet. Astronomers have named this object 3200 Phaethon.

If your sky is cloudy tonight, don’t let that stop you from watching the Geminid shower on Friday night. The Geminids may be past their peak by then, but this shower should still produce a decent sprinkling of meteors. The Geminids are fairly sparse at mid-evening but increase in number by late evening. From anywhere worldwide, the most meteors usually fall around 2 to 3 a.m. local time.

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