On Wednesday, the sky is going to light up with a dazzling display in the form of the Geminid meteor shower, a meteor shower caused by the object 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid with a “rock comet” orbit that streams across the sky. As it does so, on a dark, moonless night, the earth is showered with as many as 50-120 meteors per hour, and with the Geminids’ parent object so close this year, you can possibly expect even more. As with the recent supermoon, the rare and wondrous phenomenon is one you won’t want to miss, so here’s everything you need to know to properly experience it. And for more fun trivia, here are 20 predictions that didn’t come true in 2017.
Get out of the city
The glare of city lights will make it difficult to properly see the meteors, so this is a great excuse to escape to the cool darkness of the country. It might be a bit too cold to camp out, but if you prepare properly, it’s totally worth it. The Geminids are one of the only two major meteor showers that don’t originate from a comet, and many people consider them more dazzling than the Perseid meteor shower that rolls around every August.
Stay up late
The shower is expected to peak at around 2 am, when its radiant point appears highest in the sky. The time is the same no what matter what time zone you’re in. The “Gems,” as savvy stargazers call them, will be most visible in the northern hemisphere, though the southern hemisphere will get them, too.
Find an open sky
A field or campsite will give you the best view of this celestial wonder. According to the Meteor Shower Calendar of the International Meteor Organization (IMO), the observing conditions this year are “almost optimal” because of a crescent moon that will not rise until 3:30 am.
Watch for at least an hour
The meteors tend to fall in bursts as opposed to continuously, so don’t give up if you haven’t seen any right away. Plus, it can take as long as 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark, so it’s worth waiting. If you’re having trouble finding it, look to the constellation Gemini–from which the shower gets it name–located just above and to the right of Orion’s Belt.
Keep an eye out for the moon before dawn
The waning crescent moon is going to be sweeping past Jupiter and Mars in the east just before dawn, so it’s worth keeping an eye out in case you manage to get two natural phenomena for the price of one! And if all else fails and you don’t make it outdoors, you can always catch the Virtual Telescope Project’s livestream of the Geminid meteor shower starting at 5 pm tonight.
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