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The Geminid meteor shower is at its best the next few nights. There’s no moonlight to spoil the view. And unlike most meteor showers, this one doesn’t wait for the wee hours of the morning to get started.
Its meteors form when Earth sweeps through a cloud of dust from a dead comet known as 3200 Phaethon. At its closest, Phaethon passes just 13 million miles from the Sun. At that range, solar energy may blast particles off the comet’s surface and into space. Over time, the particles spread out a bit along Phaethon’s orbit, forming a long, thin stream.
Earth passes through the stream every December. Some of its particles slam into our planet’s atmosphere at high speed. They quickly vaporize, forming the glowing streaks known as meteors.
The shower is named for the constellation Gemini. That’s because the meteors all appear to originate in Gemini. So the best view of the shower comes after Gemini climbs into good view, which happens by around 9 or 10 p.m. The constellation is marked by its “twins,” the stars Castor and Pollux, which are easy to spot. The meteors can streak across any part of the sky, though, so you don’t have to look toward Gemini to see them.
The shower’s peak is expected to come tomorrow night, when you might see dozens of meteors per hour — if you can get away from the glare of city lights. The shower could stretch into Monday night as well — providing bright streaks of light across the late-autumn sky.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015