Bright lights from tiny pebbles - how to watch Wednesday's peak meteor shower

Published: Dec. 12, 2017 at 9:42 AM AKST
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The Geminid meteor shower will peak Wednesday night—between December 13 and 14—and weather willing, most people in the northern hemisphere have a pretty good chance to see a “falling star” or meteoroid. The Geminid meteor showers could produce up to 60 to 120 meteoroids per hour. This year, the waning moon provides a darker sky and a better chance of seeing the meteoroids.

Meteoroids are typically the size of a small pebble but appear as a bright light in the sky. The light is created as the rock burns up while going 78,000 miles per hour through Earth's atmosphere.

The Geminids are named after the Gemini constellation, which is where they appear to radiate from. The best way to view the meteor shower is to get away from light pollution, lay on your back and look up at the dark sky. There’s no need to look toward the Gemini constellation.

The Geminids are the result of Earth moving through the space debris and dust left behind by an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. Most meteor showers are the result of Earth interacting with space debris from comets. As the comet gets close to the sun, the ice melts a bit and releases tiny rocks. The asteroid 3200 Phaethon is a little different from most comets. As it approaches the sun, the asteroid heats up and fractures, sending dust and rock into space.

A couple of days after the peak of the meteor shower—December 16—3200 Phaethon passes close to the Earth and sky-watchers with telescopes have the chance to see the object that caused the meteoroids. The asteroid is coming within 6.4 million miles of Earth, according to National Geographic. This will be the closest it has been since 1974. The next time 3200 Phaethon approaches Earth at such a close distance will be 2093.