There’s a “must-see” celestial event set to take place next week, that is, if it’s even possible to observe it.
The Geminid meteor shower is to produce a consistent 120 meteors per hour in the night sky Dec. 13-14. The Geminids occur every year at the same time, but a key challenge with observing the ‘falling stars’ is whether or not clouds obstruct the view.
Astronomy educator and Royal Astronomical Society of Canada columnist Gary Boyle explained that meteor showers occur at the same time every year because they are usually produced by a comet that rounds the sun.
“Material is blown off the comet when it comes close to the sun just by the solar radiation,” Boyle said. “Every year when we do our lap around the sun, just like a car goes around a circular racetrack, we encounter this debris.”
The Geminids are not caused by a comet, but rather by debris from an 5.8km in diameter asteroid named 3200 Phaethon.
Skipping across the Earth’s atmosphere at 36km per second, Boyle said the Geminid meteor shower is particularly good for stargazers because they are “slow, graceful, bright meteors.”
“It’s something that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Nature always has a way of bringing calm and relaxation to no matter what it is,” Boyle said.
Boyle said the meteors are called “earth grazers” because they don’t actually enter the atmosphere.
“They just skip along, like you skip a rock on a lake.”
If the skies are clear, the other competing force to observing the shower is light pollution from cities and the moon. The moon is to be about 77 per cent lit that evening. Still, Boyle said, Canadians should be able to see some of the brighter meteors.
The best time to observe, Boyle said, is at about 12 a.m. on Dec. 14.