Geminid Meteor Shower : 12 - 14th December 2009

A meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the debris trail left by a passing comet. In the case of the Geminids meteor shower, the culprit was an object called 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be an extinct comet. Meteor showers provide us with a better chance of seeing a meteor or 'shooting star' - small pieces of rock or dust that enter and burn up in the atmosphere, creating bright firey trails across the night sky.

Stellarium Screenshot
Stellarium image of the night sky at 10 PM on the 13th December - radiant is circled.

The meteors from the Geminid shower will start close to a point known as the radiant (see above), which is in the constellation of Gemini - hence the name of the meteor shower. The number of meteors will peak around the 12-14th December, when we can expect to see around 120-160 meteors per hour. This is way up from the usual 5 or 6 per hour we can expect on a typical night.

As mid-December coincides with the dark nights of a new moon, the conditions (weather permitting) should be ideal for Geminid spotting. You don't even need a telescope or binoculars - just warm clothing, a hot drink and a comfy chair. The best plan would be to look just to the left of the constellation of Gemini, which can be found high above the Eastern horizon shortly after 10 PM. Be aware that the meteors will only last a fraction of a second, so you have to concentrate .... blink and you'll miss them.