ONE of the best meteor showers of the year is about to get under way – and stargazers can’t wait.
Up to 120 shooting stars every hour will streak brightly across the sky at the peak of the Geminids shower. Here’s how to watch.
When does the Geminids meteor shower start?
The Geminids meteor shower hits the Earth at the same time every year, beginning around December 4.
In 2018 the peak – and therefore the best time to watch – will be on the night of December 13-14.
Nasa says it is one of the best and most reliable displays of shooting stars in the astronomical year.
Meteors are very bright with trails that last long enough for a clear view.
And they occur often, up to two a minute in the best conditions away from light pollution.
The peak lasts for about 24 hours, giving everyone a chance to watch wherever they are on the planet.
Flashes appear to come from the constellation Gemini, hence the name, but in fact have nothing to do with those stars which are many light years away.
They are caused by dust particles burning up in the high atmosphere at 22 miles per second, creating a spectacular light show for us on the surface.
It happens every December as the Earth orbits through a debris cloud left by a giant space rock called Asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
The phenomenon has baffled astronomers as most meteor showers are from comets, not asteroids, and the Geminids are relatively recent.
They were fist observed only in 1862, and have got more intense in recent decades – perhaps because a chunk of the 3.6-mile-wide asteroid was carved off.
How can I watch the Geminids meteor shower?
You don’t need any special equipment to watch – just a dark, open sky.
In fact the naked eye is best, as you will most likely miss them if you look through a telescope or binoculars.
Get away from sources of light and sit on a camping chair or lie in a sleeping bag to keep warm and comfortable as you gaze at the sky.
Give your eyes 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the light (don’t use a torch or look at your phone).
Then you should begin to see shooting stars – often in random spurts with pauses in between.
You need to look vaguely in the direction of Gemini.
In the northern hemisphere, this is in the south-western sky, just up and to the left of Orion’s belt.
In the southern hemisphere, look north-west and Gemini is below and to the right of Orion.
At the peak on December 13-14 there will be a first quarter (half) moon – but it will fall below the horizon at midnight so moonlight will not spoil the view after that.
The best time to watch is around 2am local time, wherever you are in the world, although they are visible from sunset to sunrise.
Of course it depends on the weather – clouds will block your view completely.
Tonight, December 4, the Met Office predicts cloudy skies and rain.
Check back nearer the time for an up-to-date forecast when the shower reaches its peak.
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