The Geminid meteor shower happens every December and has been observed for over 500 years. It's is also known as Winter's Fireworks because when viewed from the right location, there are enough meteors to light up the whole night sky, and some of them can even be different colors.
The shower appears to come from the Gemini constellation, but is actually caused by Earth passing through the tail of dust and debris left behind by the comet 3200 Phaethon.
All those burning pieces of space junk may look impressive, but most of them aren't much bigger than a grain of sand. What makes them so bright is their speed—they travel at about 21.75 miles per second, which, as fast as it sounds, is on the low to medium end for meteors.
Last year's shower was more difficult to see because of the moon, but this year, the peak, which is tonight (December 13th) is happening during a New Moon, so visibility will be much greater.
And you're pretty much guaranteed to spot some shooting stars, since the Geminids usually puts out as many as 60 to 100 meteors per hour!
If you live near a large city, you're going to have to do some driving if you want to see anything. The further you can get from bright lights and smog, the better. In other words, head to the nearest wide open field.
As an added bonus, if you look just west of the Gemini constellation, you'll be able to see Jupiter (see map above, larger version here), and right before sunrise, Saturn, Venus and Mercury will be visible above the southeastern horizon.
You can see the Geminid meteor shower earlier in the evening than other showers because the Gemini constellation is higher in the sky, which means it moves above the horizon early.
The best time to look is around 2 a.m. local time, but if you don't feel like staying up that late, the shower is expected to be visible between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
You don't need any special equipment to see the shower, but there are a few things that can make for a better show. You will, of course, want something to sit on if you plan on watching for a while, and a pair of binoculars is helpful, but not necessary.
If you plan on being there for several hours, you may even want to go all-out with a tripod setup, complete with binocular attachment so your arms don't get tired holding them.
Since visibility is supposed to be optimal this year, it will also be a great time to take some killer photos. A tripod will definitely help since you're shooting overhead, and your shutter speed depends on what kind of photos you want to capture (longer if you want to capture the tails, shorter if you just want the stars).
A wider lens is better to get as much of the horizon in the photo as possible, but settings will depend on what type of camera you're using. For more tips and tricks, check out Noel Chenier's guide to getting great shots of the shower.
Are you going to be watching the Geminid meteor shower this year? Know of any other tips or tricks to make the experience better? Let us know in the comments section below, and if you get any stellar photos (sorry, couldn't resist), share them with us over on the Inspiration section, or directly in the comments below.
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