The Geminids meteor shower will peak this week, and amateur and professional astronomers are preparing for what many space-watchers say will be the best meteor shower of the year.
As many as 150 meteors per hour will streak across the night sky over the next few days, but if you want to make the most of this moment and have the best Geminids-watching experience you can, you would be wise to plan ahead.
This guide provides some helpful advice on where, when and how to watch the Geminids meteor shower in all its glory. Happy stargazing!
1. Go when it is at its peak. Any meteor shower has a “peak” time, when the storm will be at its most intense, and the frequency of meteors visible in the night sky is at its highest. This year, the Geminids meteor shower peak dates are Dec. 13 and 14, so aim to get out and view it on those days. The Geminids meteor shower is the result of the Earth passing through the remnant particles of an exploded asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, according to CBS News. The optimal viewing time to see these particles and meteors streaming across the night sky as they incinerate in the Earth's atmosphere is Dec. 13 and 14, so mark your calendars for this peak time. And just so you know, GeekSmash reports that the absolute best time to view the Geminids meteor shower this year will be 2 a.m. Dec. 14. So maybe set your watches, too.
2. Go early. The best time to view the Geminids meteor shower is in the early morning hours, when Gemini is at its highest point, according to the Examiner. Luckily, the Moon will be mostly shielded from view due to being near its New phase, so it will not create enough light to significantly reduce the majesty of the meteor shower. Simply look due south early in the morning and you will have a great view of the Geminids meteor shower in all its glory. At its most intense on the peak days of Dec. 13 and 14, viewers can expect to see as many as 150 meteors per hour, according to CBS.
3. Get out there. The Geminids meteor shower is slated to be the best meteor shower of 2012, so be sure to get as far away from modern civilization as you possibly can on the night or nights you plan to view it. Hanging out in Times Square may be a great way to ring in the New Year, but the lights of New York City will render the meteors invisible to viewers who want to enjoy the show from the Big Apple. So rent a car and head out to the mountains, a desolate field, or anywhere else where the sky is dark and open and not dimmed by the lights of modernity. It'll be worth the effort when the shooting stars start making their way across the starry night.
4. Watch the weather. The Geminids meteor shower peaks on Dec. 13 and 14, but it is going to be an impressive spectacle for the next ten nights. So don't put all your eggs in one basket and simply plan to go when it's peaking, because if the weather doesn't hold up, you may be better off watching it tonight or even on the 20th. That's because no matter how stellar the show is, heavy cloud cover, rain, fog and smog can render it nearly invisible for viewers down here on earth. So be sure to check the weather ahead of time and figure out the perfect night to watch the shower in your area. It would likely be better to see a slightly-less-peak show on the 16th than to try to catch a glimpse in between thunderclouds on the 13th. One easy way to determine the optimal night in your region is to simply visit Weather.com, type in your zip code and check the 10-day forecast.
5. Bring your telescope. Though the Geminids meteor shower is one of the most impressive of the year when viewed by the naked eye, a telescope can make it an even more interesting spectacle. Though it is impossible to tell where a meteor will streak across the sky, if you happen to catch some meteoric activity through the strong lens of a skyward-pointed telescope, it can be an inspiring experience. So if you've got a telescope, bring it. If you happen to catch a large meteor as it streaks, it will be your best astronomic experience of the year, and if not, you'll still have the opportunity to see some cool space stuff that is invisible to the bare human eye.