Good news everyone! It's time to train our eyes upward and see if we can see the annual Geminid Meteor Shower streaking across the nighttime sky. The Geminids are caused by the asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which is a rock comet. The meteors that burn up in Earth's atmosphere are parts of 3200 Phaethon that have broken off due to thermal fracturing. This makes the Geminids one of two major meteor showers to not originate from a comet (the second major meteor shower to not originate from a comet are the Quadrantids). Although the Geminids are generally considered one of the best yearly meteor showers, this year the shower will be slightly obscured by the moon.
According to the experts, the best time to watch the Geminid Meteor Shower will be after midnight on December 13, 2013, and December 14, 2013. While the waxing moon will illuminate the night sky, many of the Geminids are so bright that the moonlight cannot and will not obscure their fiery trails. If you are concerned about not seeing any of the Geminids because of the waxing moon, there will also be a period of darkness between moonset and dawn during which the shower will likely be particularly visible, but bear in mind that this period of time will be between 4:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., depending on your location! While the early morning hours of December 13 and 14th, 2013 will be the best times to view the shower, it's worth noting that the shower has already begun, as evidenced by the large Geminid that streaked over Tucson last night! In this respect, from this point on, there is a chance to see the Geminids anytime after 10 p.m. on the nights of December 12, 13, 14, and probably even on December 15. (More information on observing the Geminids here, here, and here.)
As always, you can rest assured that I will be outside watching the Geminids, because I love meteor showers. If you're interested in seeing a meteor shower for the first time, let me provide you with three handy tips: 1) Get outside. Cities provide a lot of light pollution, which makes it harder to see everything in the night sky, including the Geminids. 2) Be patient. Allow your eyes time to adjust to the dark; sit back; relax, and enjoy watching the universe move in inscrutable and beautiful ways. 3) Have fun! Bring food, drinks, and plenty of blankets and pillows to stay comfortable and warm.
Interested in science? You might like this NASA app HERE.