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The Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak in mid-December thanks to this puzzling asteroid

The Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak in mid-December thanks to this puzzling asteroid

The Geminid meteor shower, one of the best meteor showers of the year, occurs in December when Earth passes through particles and pieces of asteroid 3200 Phaethon.

According to NASA, the Geminids are one of the few meteor showers associated with an asteroid rather than a comet. However, 3200 Phaethon is a strange object that astronomers are still trying to identify.

Astronomers say that Phaethon behaves like a comet because it shines and forms a tail when it is closest to the sun, but… A study published in April The asteroid’s tail appears to be unusual. Phaethon’s tail is not as dusty as a comet’s; It is made of sodium gas. It’s also unusual because most asteroids don’t form tails as they approach the sun, according to NASA.

One big question remains: If Phaethon doesn’t kick up dust like comets, how can it provide the materials needed for the Geminid meteor shower? An upcoming Japanese spacecraft mission called… Destiny+ It may help answer that question as it flies around the asteroid.

NASA said 3200 Phaethon is likely a “dead comet” or a new type of object called a “rocky comet.” Currently, it is classified as an asteroid.

December stargazing guide: Geminid meteors, the Christmas full moon, and the star-moon conjunction

This year, the Geminid meteor shower occurs from December 4 to 17. During the peak on December 13 and 14, the sky could be lit up by 150 meteors per hour under ideal conditions.

The name meteor shower comes from the constellation Gemini because meteors appear to radiate from the constellation, but do not originate from it.

How to see the Geminid meteor shower

Clear skies free of fog and light pollution will provide ideal viewing conditions for stargazers.

To spot meteors, it is best to have dark skies away from city lights. When you go outside, give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. It may take up to 40 minutes.

NASA Gordon Johnston Below explains why it’s important to get a big view of the sky and give your eyes time to adjust.

“Color-sensing cone cells are concentrated near the center of your vision with more rod cells at the edge of your vision,” he writes. “Because some meteors are faint, you will tend to see more meteors out of the ‘corner of your eye’ (which is why you need to see a large portion of the sky). Color vision (cone cells) will adapt to darkness in about 10 minutes, but night vision cells The most sensitive ones will continue to improve for an hour or more (with most improvement in the first 35 to 45 minutes).”

During some meteor showers, the moon can also obscure the view. For this year’s Geminis, the appearance of the crescent moon on December 13 will not prevent stargazers from seeing meteors. Between December 13 and 14, only 1-3% of the moon’s light will shine in the sky.

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On the East Coast, the best time to start looking for Gemini is after 8:30 p.m. on December 13, according to NASA.