The Best Shooting Stars of the Year

The best display of shooting stars all year — the annual “Geminid meteor shower” — peaks the evening of December 13, although you can see many shooting stars during the days leading up to, and following the peak — through at least December 18. In this article we’ll discuss what a meteor shower is, how to view the shooting stars, and when to view them.

Watching a meteor shower
The best way to view a meteor shower is to lie back and look up — no telescope needed!

Meteor Showers 101

Grape-Nuts
The particles that burn up in the atmosphere in a blaze of glory, forming “shooting stars,” are normally about the size of a grape-nut that you’d find in a bowl of Grape-Nuts cereal. Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Shooting stars are meteors — small particles in space that quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.  Most meteor showers result from particles left over from comets that have visited our neck of the galactic woods. But the particles for the Geminid meteor shower (or “the Geminids” for short) are part of the debris trail left by an asteroid called “3200 Phaethon” as it orbits the Sun. Earth passes through this debris trail each December, resulting in the Geminids. It’s called the “Geminids” because the shooting stars in this meteor shower all appear to fly toward us from the constellation Gemini (the Twins).

The constellation Gemini
The constellation Gemini, marked by the two bright stars at the top — Pollux and Castor. Image Credit: sky-map.org

How to view the meteor shower

Shooting Star
A shooting star (in slow motion!). Image Credit: NASA

So consider going outside under the night sky with your significant other, and make some wishes upon every shooting star you see!  No telescope or binoculars needed: Just bring along a lawn chair or long towel on which to lie down.  You might want to bring along some food and drink and, depending on where you live in the world, either some mosquito repellent or warm clothing. Then, just look up. Note that the Geminids put on quite a show in the northern hemisphere of Earth, but those of you in the southern hemisphere will likely see only a handful of shooting stars.

When to look for the Geminids

The Geminid meteor shower peaks the night of December 13-14 this year. Without significant moonlight, we should see a good show. The absolute best time to view the meteors is at about 2 am, but you should see shooting stars throughout the night.

Clear skies to you!


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