Geminid meteor shower, Geminids picture, Geminid meteor picture
Jimmy Westlake/NASA
Star trails and a Geminids meteor over Georgia in 1985.

2009 Geminid Meteor Shower to Peak Tonight

December 13, 2009 03:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Geminid meteor shower, the strongest annual meteor shower, reaches its peak tonight, with up to 140 meteors per hour shortly after midnight.

The Geminid Meteor Shower

The annual Geminid meteor shower, visible this year from Dec. 6-18, reaches its peak on the night of Dec. 13-14. It will be visible to Americans tonight between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time, and astronomers predict it could reach 140 meteors per hour between 12:10 and 2:10 a.m. EST.

The Geminid shower was first spotted in the early 1860s, and it has been growing stronger ever since. Watchers of the meteor shower might be able to see even more meteors than usual this year because during the meteor shower’s peak, the moon will be in the new moon phase and not visible from Earth (and also keeping the sky unusually dark).

The meteors are pieces of debris from a mysterious object called the 3200 Phaethon, believed to be an extinct comet. NASA explains, “Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. … Jupiter's gravity has been acting on Phaethon's debris stream, causing it to shift more and more toward Earth's orbit. Each December brings a deeper plunge into the debris stream.”

Reference: Shooting stars and meteor showers

Meteors, or shooting stars, are the light and sound created when a meteoroid (or small bit of space debris) hits the earth’s atmosphere. If any of the meteoroid survives the burn of earth’s atmosphere and makes it to earth, it is called a meteorite.

Meteor showers happen when earth crosses into the trail of debris left by a comet. Often meteor showers result in dozens or more meteor sightings per hour. When meteor sightings reach 1000 or more per hour it is called a meteor storm.

To learn about upcoming meteor showers, the American Meteor Society provides a calendar of annual meteor showers.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines