Geminids Meteor Shower


Time to look up to the heavens at night.  The granddaddy of all meteor showers has begun.  The Geminids Meteor Shower runs from December 7-17 with the peak period coming on the evening of Wednesday the 13th and early morning hours of the 14th.

The Geminids are known for producing a lot of showy meteors.  And with a waning crescent moon during the peak, if the sky is clear, we could be in for an impressive show.  The Geminids are known for producing lots of meteors, perhaps up to 120 meteors per hour or even more during the peak period.  Plus these meteors have the reputation of being unusually bright with long trails that persist longer than other meteor showers.  And if we are really lucky, we could see a large meteor, called a fireball, bust up in the sky to form several smaller meteors.

It is hard to believe that most meteors are only the size of a grain of sand or so.  But they are cruising through space at roughly 30 miles per second.  If you do the math, that is 1,800 miles per minute, or 108,000 miles per hour.  That’s like going from Fargo/Moorhead to Beach in a little under 12 seconds.

Most meteor showers are caused by comets.  Comets are mixtures of ice, rock, and dust.  Think of them as dirty snowballs or snowy dirtballs a few miles in diameter.  When they pass near the sun, the heat causes them to slough off small, sand-sized particles material.  When they hit the earth’s atmosphere they become glowing hot, which from our perspective look like falling stars.

The Geminids are different.  Along with the Quadrantids Meteor Shower, they are not caused by comets.  Rather, these meteors are derived foam asteroids.  The source of the Geminids was not discovered until the early 1980’s.

So if you can, and the sky is clear, find a dark location  during the peak viewing period, get comfortable, and watch what could be the most impressive celestial show of the year.  And if that doesn’t work for the peak viewing period, find another time close to the peak for viewing.  Better yet, watch them a little bit over several evenings.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Dakota College at Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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