Mon, 03 Dec 2018
WIDELY regarded as the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids are active between December 4 and 17, with the maximum on the night of December 13-14.
They are a fairly new meteor shower, first recorded in 1862, but meteor numbers are increasing. At the peak, if you have clear, dark skies, you may see a meteor per minute on average.
Composite of Geminid meteors Picture: Richard Fleet
They are called Geminids because they appear to radiate from a point near the star Castor in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. Gemini will be visible in the east, above and to the left of the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.
Most meteor showers originate from sand-sized particles left behind by comets, but the material that causes the Geminid meteors comes from a rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.
These particles are denser than the usual fluffy cometary debris, and relatively slow – they enter our atmosphere at only 22 miles per second – so they can cause bright, longer lasting meteors.
You don’t need any special equipment to watch meteors, although a garden chair or sun lounger will help prevent neck-ache. Just wrap up warm and try and find a spot away from direct light.
Meteors can appear in any part of the sky, so pick a cloud free area and count how many you see in half an hour.
Remember, Geminids will all appear to come from the constellation of Gemini – so meteors that come from other parts of the sky won’t be Geminids.
If you are lucky enough to see a meteor that’s brighter than the planet Venus, you can report it using the Fireball Report form www.ukmeteornetwork.co.uk/fireball-report
For more information about the stars and planets visit www.newburyastro.org.uk