Geminid meteor shower to light up Central Florida sky

East coast to have perfect viewing conditions Wednesday into Thursday

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
Headline Goes Here Jimmy Westlake/NASA

A Geminid meteor.

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Geminid meteor shower peaks late Wednesday night, providing the best light show of the year, according to NASA, and local astronomy experts say Central Florida will have prime viewing conditions.

Every year, the Geminids become most active when the Earth passes through the debris trail of an object called 3200 Phaethon. As the dust from the debris burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, people below can see the lights shooting across the sky.

This year Phaethon will be the closest to Earth it's been since 1983, making it a prime time for astronomers to study the rocky object up close.

"With August's Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year," said Bill Cooke, with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The thin, waning crescent Moon won't spoil the show."

From Miami to Orlando, a clear sky should provide great viewing conditions Wednesday night. Meteors will fall at more than 79,000 mph. At its peak, Floridians could see up to 120 meteors an hour, possibly more.

[Watch the video below to see what viewing conditions in your area will look like]

Seminole State College Planetarium director and astronomer Derek Demeter shared some viewing tips with News 6 ahead of the meteor shower.

The first step is finding your viewing spot. Demeter recommends getting away from Orlando and the downtown light pollution if you can. The Kissimmee Prairie Preserve or any of Florida parks would make great locations.

Next, get comfortable.

"Grab a lounge chair or a lawn chair that goes way back," Demeter said. 

Lay back -- the more sky in your view, the better. Even though Geminids radiate from the Gemini constellation the streak of light will appear across the whole night sky. To determine if you've seen a Geminid, trace the light backward toward its source in the sky.

"If you can find where Gemini is, you want to see if the meteor is traveling from the radiant, if the meteor is going away from Gemini," Demeter said.

On any given night, people could see a shooting star or two, Demeter said, so if the light is not coming from Gemini it's a "sporadic meteor" which is still a dazzling sight to see.

Not sure where Gemini is in the night sky? Demeter suggests using a skygazing app such as Stellarium, Star Walk or Google Sky Map.

The shower peaks between 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and dawn Thursday. Demeter said from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Central Florida will be directly under the Gemini constellation, where the meteors originate, and viewers should have the best chance of spotting a few shooting stars during that time, as the sky over Central Florida will be pointed directly at the debris field.

But the timing of this meteor shower means people don't have to wait up all night to catch the show.

"Gemini will be rising in the east around 9 p.m. between (stars) Castor and Pollux," Demeter said.

Demeter, an experienced astrophotographer, said people planning to photograph the lights should keep their shutters open between 15 to 20 seconds and be patient.

"You're bound to get one or two meteors in there," he said.

NASA also plans to livestream the light show beginning at sunset on Wednesday at NASA.gov.

Did you spot any meteors? Send me your photos at especk@wkmg.com to be featured on News 6 and ClickOrlando.com.

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