(WKBN) – One of the more reliable meteor showers of the year will peak tonight, December 13-14, 2022. The Geminids meteor shower typically results in one of the best displays when the weather cooperates and viewing conditions are optimal. Hundreds of meteors can be seen each hour when conditions are just right. This year, there will be a few challenges in how many you’ll be able to see.
How many meteors does the Geminids Meteor Shower produce and why is it called “Geminids?”
During the peak with optimal viewing conditions, the Geminids Meteor Shower has been known to produce between 100-150 meteors per hour. You will find more details on why later in this article, but this year’s display is expected to be lower due to a brighter sky. The reason it is called the “Geminids” meteor shower is because the meteors will appear in the sky around the constellation Gemini. The constellation has nothing to do with the formation of the meteors though, it is just the area in the sky they appear.
You can find it near the constellation Orion, known for the “Orion’s belt” formation that makes up part of the constellation. Gemini will appear to be two long lines of stars originating from two bright stars known as Castor and Pollux. The constellations are high in the sky, looking toward the south.
The cause of the Geminids Meteor Shower is rather unique compared to other meteor showers
The cause of the Geminids is an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. As earth passes through debris from the asteroid, fragments of it will enter earth’s atmosphere. As they burn up entering, you will see the “shooting star.”
But the cause of the Geminids shower is unique to this specific shower. According to NASA, all other documented meteor showers that occur originate from comets. The Geminids is the only one known to originate from an asteroid.
3200 Phaethon was first discovered in October 1983. NASA reports that it is the first asteroid to have been discovered by a satellite. How the asteroid causes such vibrant meteor showers remains somewhat of a mystery to astronomers. For starters, the size of the asteroid is thought to be rather small to produce such a debris field. The asteroid measures in at roughly 3.17 miles in diameter. NASA has several theories about how the asteroid produces such a large debris field. Among the most recent theories is that 3200 Phaethon is something called a “rock comet.”
A rock comet is basically a classification given to objects that pass so close to the sun that they are super-heated in their pass, resulting in debris being cast off the object.
In 2009, a satellite observed 3200 Phaethon appearing to brighten when it made its closest pass to the sun. The theory is that the brightness was caused by debris from the asteroid due to it being super-heated by the sun. While that is a proposed theory for how the asteroid produces such a large stream of debris, NASA still thinks it is too large a debris field to account for the number of meteors produced during the Geminids shower. You can read more about the theories on 3200 Phaethon at this link to a NASA publication on the asteroid.
When and where should you look in the sky?
The Geminids Meteor Shower starts producing meteors a few days before and continues producing meteors a few days after the peak. But the best day to view is at the peak, happening the night of Tuesday, December 13 into Wednesday, December 14, 2022. Meteors generally begin appearing in the evening, but the best window for viewing is after midnight. NASA reports the best rates usually occur around 3 a.m.
You will want to face the south when viewing the Geminids Meteor Shower. You will also want to look high in the sky. A 2019 NASA analysis of the Geminids shower that year showed most meteors burning up between 45 to 55 miles in the sky.
How will visibility be for the 2022 Geminids Meteor Shower?
There are two challenges for viewing the meteor shower this year. First, the 2022 Geminids shower will occur when the moon is in a waning gibbous phase. That is the phase that follows a full moon. This means the moon will be somewhat bright in the sky. The light from the moon will make it harder to see some of the less vibrant meteors that occur. That does not mean you won’t see any, but dimmer meteors can be more difficult to spot. NASA expects around 30-40 meteors per hour to be visible due to the brightness of the moon. The moon will rise in the Youngstown area at 9:53 p.m. in the east-northeastern sky on Tuesday, December 13 and set at 12:21 p.m. on Wednesday, December 14 in the west-northwestern sky.
Also challenging visibility of the Geminids will be the cloud coverage. While skies cleared for Tuesday afternoon, clouds will be increasing into Tuesday night. The earlier you can head out, the better your chances of clouds being thin enough to spot some meteors. Clouds will continue increasing in the Youngstown area into Wednesday morning, returning the area to overcast conditions. We are no strangers to clouds during the month of December. Obviously, the last several days have featured lots of cloud coverage and there is more of that on the way. December, on average, is one of our cloudier months overall. December ties with January for the most cloudy days on average in a given month for our area.
The storm system bringing the clouds will also bring precipitation to the area, including a brief window for a wintry mix that may cause a couple of slick spots. Stay updated on the forecast by checking the latest Youngstown area 7-day forecast.