Mark Your Calendars for a Superb Geminid Meteor Shower

Mark Your Calendars for a Superb Geminid Meteor Shower

It's time to make a Christmas wish on some shooting stars.

The big occasion is the US getting ideal astronomical conditions for the strong Geminid meteor shower.

Every year on about the same dates, Earth passes through swarms of rocky particles associated with the orbits of various comets.

As far as meteor showers are concerned, we're in luck.

It might seem unfortunate that one of the greatest meteor showers of the year comes as winter is ramping up.

A photographer looks at the night sky to see the annual Geminid meteor shower on the Elva Hill, in Maira Valley, near Cuneo, in northwest Italy, on December 12, 2015.

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Last year, the normally brilliant Geminids were outshone by a supermoon.

In some years, the moon is at a large phase all or most of the night and its bright light washes out our view of most of the meteors.

The Geminids stand apart from these other events, though.

The Geminid meteor shower is distinctive insofar as it's not caused by a comet, but rather an asteroid with many properties of a comet. The shower will peak the night of the December 13th and be visible from most points on Earth through the morning of the 14th.

How many of these shooting stars can you expect to see? When judging these light shows, the number of meteors visible per hour is sometimes used as a proxy of brightness. That being said, you'll have to temper your expectations according to where you live; the light pollution in cities can impede visibility considerably, with numbers dwindling to around 10-15 per hour. But some of them will be bright meteors, maybe a few brighter than any star or planet, or even as bright as the moon.

Geminids are the slowpokes of the meteor world. From 11 p.m.to 4 a.m. Geminid rates of 60 or more would be possible if skies are quite clear. If you live in the United Kingdom, with its unending proclivity for leaden skies, you may not be so lucky but don't despair; you may still get a chance to see some ethereal pairings of the crescent moon with the planets Jupiter and Mars instead.

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