via Wikimedia Commons
The Geminid Meteor showers are coming back this weekend and the sky will be aglow with beautiful shooting stars.
A common misconception about shooting stars is that many people believe that they are actually stars, even though they are rocks and space debris entering the atmosphere and burning up. Oftentimes, the space debris is a stray asteroid or meteor. The rock rarely hits earth due to the friction that burns up the stone. When the rock does occasionally hit the earth, it is usually no bigger than a pebble.
These showers are expected to peak on the 13th to 14th of December. The best time to see the rocks are from Sunday evening to Monday’s dawn. However, even though there is a big window of time, the best time to watch the meteor showers is at 2 in the morning since that’s when it’s at the radiant point or the highest point in the sky. On the 13-14th, the showers will reach their radiant points, which lines up with the Gemini constellation (hence their name). The best earth-gazer can be seen during evening times. An earth-gazer is a slow-moving meteor that travels horizontally.
The Geminid Meteor Shower is led by the 3,200 Phaethon, a rock comet. As 3,200 Phaethon enters the earth, it spreads its debris all over the earth. The smaller rocks create a beautiful shower in the sky. As the comet gets closer to the sun, the thermal exchange is so great that it weakens the rock so it sheds more debris when it enters the atmosphere.
These showers are best seen in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth. The best way to enjoy this spectacle is to travel to a place without any light pollution, preferably, in a more rural area. The best time to watch is at night or very early in the morning. As long as there is no sunlight, it will be easy to see these comets (however it is possible to see some during the evenings).
The Gemini constellation is best known for its connection to the zodiac sign. It can be seen from the Northern Hemisphere during winter and early spring. The best time to see the Gemini twins is during the month of February. Castor and Pollux, the individual names of the twins, are not actually next to each other, rather, many light-years apart. The Alpha star of Pollux is a red star 33 light-years away while Castor’s is only 51 light-years away.
These meteor showers only happen once a year, so take advantage of the opportunity to watch these showers.