The best meteor shower of the year is about to grace our skies

By Isabella Lamshed 22 November 2018
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This December is your chance to witness one of the best meteor showers of 2018 – the Geminids.

ON 14 DECEMBER, the Geminids meteor shower will light up the skies with one of the most spectacular displays of shooting stars to be viewed from Earth this year.

Professor Alan Duffy, an astronomer at Swinburne University in Mebourne and lead scientist of the Royal Institute of Australia, said the Geminids will be “one of the best meteor showers of the year”, due to the sheer number of possible meteor sightings throughout the event.

“At its peak, you will be able to see up to 120 shooting stars an hour – that’s two per minute!” Alan said.

The Geminids meteor shower occurs at a similar time each year, when Earth passes through a cloud of debris from a parent Asteroid, named the 3200 Phaethon. Alan explained that the Geminids meteor shower is particularly unusual as it is “formed from an asteroid and not a comet, as is more standard for meteor showers”.

Another factor that separates the Geminids from many other meteor showers – such as the Perseids and the Lyrids, which have been around for thousands of years – is that it is a relatively new phenomenon, observed for the first time only 150 years ago. This is because the orbit of the debris cloud (along with the parent asteroid, Phaethon) is rapidly shifting over time. As its trajectory wobbles around the Sun, the centre of the Geminids orbit is moving closer to Earth with each year, which is why it has become more visible in the last century and a half.

Fear not, however, as according to Alan “there is no real threat or chance of the meteor shower colliding with Earth”.

Emerging out of the constellation Gemini (hence the name), the Geminids are generally very bright, and travel at a medium speed – perfect for viewing. This year, the maximum point of the shower also conveniently falls a day before the Moon reaches the first quarter, so the best time to view the shower will be after the Moon has set (after midnight, wherever you are), when the moonlight will not interfere.

The prime viewing time favours star-gazers in Australia and the Americas, however the shower should last around 24 hours, allowing people from all around the globe to get a glimpse.

For Australians, the maximum is forecasted to occur on Friday, 14 December at 11:30pm AEST, 10:30pm in QLD, and 8pm in WA.

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