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The king of meteor showers peaks this week

Geminid meteor showers highlights week of celestial viewing

A Geminid meteor.
A Geminid meteor. (Jimmy Westlake/NASA)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Arguably the best meteor shower of the year peaks at the end of this week. Unlike the “Unicorn" meteor shower in November which didn’t live up to the hype, the Geminids are one of the most reliable meteor showers.

The Geminids, like this summer’s Perseids, produce a great deal of shooting stars, but the one thing the Perseids lack is color.

Most of the meteor showers witnessed on Earth are comet debris that crosses Earth’s orbit. The Geminids are made up of debris from an asteroid, meaning different elements are present. These elements burn at different colors as the dust-size particles burn up in the atmosphere.

Take a look at the graphic below to see which color meteor matches with its chemical composition.

Meteor color by composition.
Meteor color by composition.

Typically, the Geminids produce more than 50 meteors per hour. This year, however, moonlight will dampen some of the fainter meteors.

As with all meteor showers, to get the full effect, stargazers should try and get away from city lights and let their eyes adjust to the darkness for about 15 minutes. Remember, the darker the better!

The Geminids will be visible in the evening sky low on the horizon, but the best time will be closer to 2 a.m. as the constellation Gemini -- the constellations where the meteors originate from -- will be highest in the sky.

FULL MOON

In addition to the Geminids, the last full moon of the decade will occur on 12/12 at 12:12 a.m.

PLANETS BRIGHT IN THE SKY

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all be visible this week. Look for Venus, Jupiter and Saturn after sunset and Mars before sunrise. Venus and Saturn will appear close to each other in the night sky before sunset Dec. 27-29.


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