Spectacular Geminid Meteor Shower 2012 Peak: When and Where to Watch

The most reliable meteor shower of the year, the Geminids, is on its way. And here are some tips for viewing the celestial show.

The Geminid meteor shower 2012, the final major meteor shower of every year and likely to be the best, peaks overnight Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, and you may be able to see a great show on either side of those dates.

If you liked the Orionids meteor shower 2012 in October, you should love this sky show. NASA reports that the Geminids are a relatively young meteor shower, with the first sightings occurring in the 1830s with rates of about 20 per hour.

Over the decades the rates have increased, regularly spawning between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.

How spectacular is it?

Just take a look at this video of the Geminid meteor shower. You can also look at some spectacular photos of the Geminids.

Tips for best viewing

Earthsky.org reports the Geminids peak might be around 2 a.m. on Dec. 13 and 14, because that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen around the world.

"With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers," Earthsky reports. "Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14."

More tips for viewing, from Earthsky.org:

You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough.

What are the Geminids?

The Geminid meteor shower is named after the constellation Gemini, which is located in roughly the same point of the night sky where the Geminid meteor shower appears to originate.

Geminids are pieces of debris from 3200 Phaethon, basically a rocky skeleton of a comet that lost most of its meat and skin — its outer covering of ice — after too many close encounters with the sun.

Most meteors meet the Earth's atmosphere, burning up in a brilliant light show, when the planet passes through the tail of a comet as the comet's orbit nears the Earth.

Strangely, the Geminids appear not when a comet's tail swings by, but when the Earth comes in contact with the particles associated with an indistinct, rocky object that doesn't have a tail, detected by NASA in 1983 and named 3200 Phaethon. Scientists speculate that 3200 Phaethon may be a chip from a nearby asteroid.

Are the predictions for the 2012 showers reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.

Your best bet is to go outside at the suggested times — and hope.

Conan McIver December 13, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Okay, it's 1/2 a story. We now know when, but what we don't know is WHERE in/around Atlanta is the best place to watch. A dark sky? Give me a break! Not in Atlanta! If Kennesaw Mtn is best, up in Cartersville, over by Stone Mtn, where is the best place to watch? Anyone?
Péralte Paul (Editor) December 13, 2012 at 07:27 PM
In the city, your best bet would be a place like Piedmont Park or Grant Park (although all city parks "officially close" at night. It is a little harder intown because of the light pollution. I'll see if there's any local astronomy clubs doing any group watches and update.
Ms. December 13, 2012 at 09:36 PM
I believe the Observatory at Fernbank is (was) open Thursday and Friday nights. When Saturn was visible they had astronomers to take people up to the big telescope for viewing. And the amateur astronomers are on hand to guide people with the smaller telescopes. I went a couple of years ago, don't know if they still do this. It was free, and pretty darn cool.
M Pack December 13, 2012 at 10:06 PM
The observatory is open tonight, but they said (I called) that we won't see the meteor shower from here. Need to go 50 miles NE from the city. Since I have my winter coat & boots, I might just drive to a nice rural spot and lay down! I have my star map app too! lol


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