Mark your calendars, the dates of December 13 th and 14 th and make sure you are free after 8.30pm on these days as the Geminids meteor shower will peak on these days.
Meteor showers are formed when Earth, on its path around the Sun, passes through a region in space where a comet has passed previously.
When a comet approaches the Sun, the sun’s heat melts away the icy surface of the comet leaving behind debris on its path. As our planet enters this region with debris, we have large number of these debris entering our atmosphere causing a meteor shower. Since earth passes through these points once every year, meteor showers occur during a specific time every year.
For example, Leonids meteor shower occurs in the month of November between 6 th and 30 th every year as the Earth passes through the debris left behind by comet “Tempel–Tuttle”. The Geminids is one of the two meteor showers that are caused by debris left behind by asteroids and not comets.
The Asteroid 3200 Phaethon which orbits the sun and on its way leaves behinddebris which, when earth passes through, leads to the Geminids meteor shower. For this reason, “3200 Pahethon” is called a “Rock Comet” (all comets are made up of ice).
With a large number of debris left behind, Geminids is one of the grand meteor showers with an estimated 120 meteors sightings predicted per hour.
That is one meteor every 30 seconds, leaving bright streaks across the sky. To enjoy the meteor shower to the fullest, find a spot no obstructions near the horizon and with least light pollution on 13 th or 14 th Dec. Gemini would rise from the Eastern horizon around 8.30pm.
You will notice a pentagon, which is the Auriga constellation, with a bright star called Capella shining in the north east and Orion’s belt (three stars in a straight line) shining in the east around this time. As Gemini rises from the horizon, one can easily see the stars Castor and Pollux rising one after the other.
Gemini can be easily identified as the constellation made up of two stick figures (rising foot first) with Castor and Pollux being the heads of the stick figures. The meteors will seem to originate from a point in the sky next to Castor and the shower is best viewed between 1am and 4am on the two days as the point of origin is high in the sky at this time.
Poornaprajna Amateur Astronomers’ Club wishes every amateur astronomer clear skies and we hope every one catches a glimpse of one of the greatest meteor showers out there.