The best viewing time will be from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. on December 13
Armchair astronomers and stargazing enthusiasts should mark their calendars this month for one of the best meteor showers of the year. Between the night of December 13 and the morning of December 14, the sky will be lit up with the spectacular Geminid meteor showers that will appear every one or two minutes. While the cosmic show started two weeks ago and will continue till December 17, the best time to view this spectacular sight is on December 13 and 14. NASA has called it the "best annual meteor shower a stargazer can see" so you wouldn't want to miss this event. The parent of the Geminids is the 3200 Phaethon, which is considered to be an asteroid or a comet. It passes the Earth every year, leaving a trail of dust, or meteoroids when it burns up when coming to contact with our atmosphere.
What makes this year even special is that it coincides with the new moon which translates to darker skies, thus leading to a clearer view of the night sky. "The Geminid rate will be even better this year, as the shower’s peak overlaps with a nearly new moon, so there will be darker skies and no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors," said NASA. In the Northern hemisphere, one can witness as many as 60 meteors per hour or "one Geminid per minute in dark skies at the shower peak." The best viewing time will be from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. on December 13, and the shower will increase as 2 a.m. approaches. In the Southern hemisphere, the rate of Geminid sightings will be slightly lesser but will be most visible between midnight and the dawn of December 14. Geminids travel at speeds of 78,000 mph (35 km/s), which to put into perspective is, 40 times faster than a speeding bullet and 1,000 times faster than a cheetah.
The Geminid meteor shower happens once a year when the Earth's orbit passes through the debris left behind by the asteroid Phaethon.— Planetary Society (@exploreplanets) December 10, 2020
Arecibo Observatory's planetary radar system took these images of near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon in 2017. pic.twitter.com/ZmN6pEoJzq
To get the best experience, ensure that the night is not cloudy. Lie on your back, look up, and allow your eyes to get accustomed to the night sky (it can take up to 30 minutes), therefore it is recommended that you stay away from bright lights including your mobile screen. When you spot a meteor, try tracing it backwards, as it might take you back to the constellation Gemini, and if it does, it's a good chance that you have spotted a Geminid. Alternatively, you can also view the meteor shower via a live stream from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. CST on the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.
According to Sky and Telescope, the Geminids were first reported in 1862, and since then they have been eagerly awaited as an annual phenomenon. It was not until 1983 that its source was discovered as the 3200 Phaethon. "It’s worth braving the cold during this shower’s peak. The Geminids offer the best display of 'shooting stars' all year," said Diana Hannikainen, observing editor at Sky & Telescope. "Go out in the evening, lie back in a reclining lawn chair, and gaze up into the stars. But as always, it’s good to remember to be patient. And bundle up!" she added.