Geminid meteor shower to start on Friday and peak in two weeks

The Geminid meteor shower peaked in the wee hours of December 14, 2018. A few stars crossed the sky around midnight at the Chautauqua trailhead in Boulder. (Kenzie Bruce, Denver Post special)

One of the heaviest meteor showers of the year is set to begin this week, and sky watchers are anxiously awaiting their peak in two weeks as there will be no moonlight to obscure the vision.

The Geminids start on Friday and will be active until December 17th. When they reach their peak on December 13-14, the lunar phase will be “new moon”, so the moon will be on the other side of the Earth overnight. It will be above us during the day, but it will not be visible because its illuminated side will be turned towards us.

In other words, it will be the darkest night of the Geminids.

Meteor showers get their name from the constellations they seem to emanate from, and in this case, it is the constellation Gemini. At peak, the Geminids can produce 120 meteors per hour, traveling at 22 miles per second.

“The Geminids are typically the heaviest meteor shower of the year, and meteor enthusiasts are certain to circle December 13 and 14 on their calendar,” according to an article on the American Meteor Society website. “This is the only large shower that offers a good activity before midnight, because the constellation Gemini is well placed from (10 pm). Geminids are often bright and intensely colored.

RELATED: The best places to watch meteor showers in Colorado

While most meteors come from comets, Geminids come from an asteroid which may be the remains of a dead comet. Either way, they appear as shooting stars as they enter and burn in Earth’s atmosphere. Asteroids are basically rocks that orbit the sun, but comets are very different.

“Comets are frozen remnants of the formation of the solar system made up of dust, rocks and ice,” according to the definition on a NASA website. “They are a few miles to tens of miles wide, but when they turn closer to the sun they heat up and spit gas and dust into a luminous head that may be larger (in appearance) than a planet. This material forms a tail that stretches for millions of kilometers.

Here are some tips from NASA for visualizing Geminids:

  • “Geminids are best seen at night and before dawn and are visible around the world through a maximum of almost 24 hours. This shower is considered one of the best opportunities for young viewers, as this shower starts around 9 or 10 p.m.
  • “To see the Geminids, find an area well away from city or street lights.
  • “Prepare for winter temperatures with a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair.
  • “Lie on your back with your feet facing south and look up, admiring the sky as much as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adjust and you will start to see meteors.
  • “Be patient – the show will last until dawn, so you have plenty of time to see it.

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