Geminid meteor shower peaks this week

BIG BEND INTERNATIONAL DARK SKY RESERVE — Astronomers of all skill levels have an excellent opportunity to view the Geminids meteor shower this week, which coincides with a new moon. Big Bend stargazers will get to double down on the benefits of dark sky viewing during the peak — which will occur early morning Thursday, with the celestial show continuing for another two weeks. 

The Geminids are the most dramatic meteor shower of the year, with up to 120 meteors an hour visible during peak conditions. “Geminid meteors are slow-moving, bright, and abundant, making the shower a fan favorite,” wrote Emily Howard, director of communications for the McDonald Observatory, in a press release. 

The Geminids are unique in that they are the result of an asteroid, rather than a comet — asteroids are mostly rock, as opposed to comets, which are mostly ice. When the tail of an asteroid, the debris left behind in its wake burns up, taking on the visual effect of a rain shower. 

Though the official peak of the shower is projected for around 2 a.m. on Thursday, December 14, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) still encourages amateurs to look toward the skies through the rest of the week. “The shower’s maximum is broad, with lower counts on the nights preceding and following the peak,” representatives for the AAS wrote in a press release. “Fainter meteors are more abundant ahead of the peak and brighter ones after the peak.”

Aside from dressing in warm layers to make outside viewing more comfortable, the AAS recommends allowing some extra time — around 20 minutes — for your eyes to adjust for the light. 

The shower’s radiant — where the meteors appear to come from — is near the star Castor in the constellation Gemini, but you don’t need to know how to find Gemini to see the show. Instead, the AAS recommends looking straight up or wherever your local sky is darkest.