Geminid Meteor Shower 2013 Best Viewed On Friday Night: Find Out The Time To Watch, Plus An Unrelated Meteor Explodes Over Arizona

By Ben Wolford on December 12, 2013 11:44 AM EST

Geminid
The Geminid meteor shower, as seen from Thailand in 2012. Photo: Shutterstock

The most spectacular meteor shower of the year is upon us, and NASA has released its tips for the best time to view the Geminid meteor show in 2013, and their predictions for what to expect. According to NASA, the most intense period of shooting star activity will be overnight from Friday to Saturday. At the shower's peak, stargazers can expect to see 100-120 meteors per hour.

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"The Geminids are typically one of the best and most reliable of the annual meteor showers," NASA scientists said. "A nearly full moon will block out some of the best meteors this year, but the Geminids are so bright it should still be a decent show. This shower is considered one of the best opportunities for younger viewers because it gets going around 9 or 10 p.m."

That bright full moon, they said, might dull Geminid's intensity during what are typically the shower's peak hours, which start around 1 a.m. So they suggest it might be better to stay up later (or get up earlier); about 4 a.m. until dawn should be good. City dwellers should head for the country and allow about 45 minutes for their eyes to adjust to the darkness. The shower technically lasts from Dec. 4-17 this year, but right around now is when the earth's atmosphere collides with the most Geminid rocks, which hurtle toward the earth at a speed of about 22 miles per second.

Incidentally, another meteoric incident occurred over Tuscon, Ariz., around dinnertime Tuesday, but it was unrelated to the Geminid meteor shower. A 16-inch-wide, 100-pound meteor collided with the atmosphere at a little more than half the speed of a Geminid meteor. As friction against gas particles heated the rock, it exploded with a force that shook people's homes, according to local reports. A dash camera captured the streak of light as it faded away. Meteors collide often with the earth's atmosphere and and explode. The largest documented occurrence of this happened over Tunguska, in Siberia, in 1908, but more recently Russians in Chelyabinsk were injured by a meteor explosion.

The sharply different speed of the Tuscon meteor tipped off astronomers that it was not part of the Geminid shower because it indicated a different source of the space debris. Typically meteor showers are caused by debris left by orbiting comets. But the Geminid shower is one of the few meteor showers that comes from an asteroid. The Geminid source is called 3200 Phaethon, whose solar orbit is very close to the sun. But even though scientists have identified 3200 Phaethon as the source, there is still more Geminid debris than they can explain. The secondary source remains unknown.

"The Geminids are my favorite because they defy explanation," said Bill Cooke, lead astronomer for NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids are by far the most massive. When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500."

Above photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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