If you love “shooting stars,” then be on the lookout for the Geminid Meteor Shower 2024—a pre-Christmas celestial fireworks display that peaks in mid-December. Many astronomers consider this annual meteor shower to be the best of the year—surpassing the famous Perseids of August. Depending on the darkness of your location, it may be possible to see as many as 60 to 120 “shooting stars” per hour during the night. Here’s everything you need to know. Psst … One of the great things about the Geminids is that—unlike most meteor showers—they are active in the evening (not only after midnight).
What Are The Geminids?
The Geminids are shooting stars caused by fragments of an asteroid (3200 Phaethon) with a debris trail that orbits around the Sun. Every December, the Earth runs into this dusty debris trail, causing “fireworks.”
The radiant (the spot in the sky where the meteors will appear to emanate) lies just below and to the right of the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini (hence the name “Geminids”).
Details For The Geminid Meteor Shower 2024
The Geminid Meteor Shower 2024 should reach peak activity during the predawn hours of Thursday, December 14, when one shooting star per minute may be visible! The Geminids are known to be long, slow, and graceful yellowish meteors and occasional fireballs. Luckily, the nearly Full Moon will be absent from the sky, and the frosty air is likely to be especially clear. Consider starting your meteor watch as early as 10 p.m. local time as this shower’s radiant (its apparent perspective point of origin) will be fairly high in the eastern sky by then and the meteors should occur in good numbers during convenient evening hours.
The Geminids radiant is placed near the stars Castor and Pollux in Gemini, which will pass directly overhead around 2 a.m. local time. Then, during the balance of the night, the radiant will gradually lose altitude in the western sky. Lesser numbers of shower meteors may be seen nightly from about December 4-17.
But keep this in mind: at this time of year, meteor watching can be a long, cold business. You wait and you wait for meteors to appear. When they don’t appear right away, and if you’re cold and uncomfortable, you’re not going to be looking for meteors for very long!
The late Henry Neely, who for many years served as a lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium, once had this to say about watching for the Geminids: “Take the advice of a man whose teeth have chattered on many a winter’s night: Wrap up much more warmly than you think is necessary!”
Hot cocoa or coffee can take the edge off the chill, as well as provide a slight stimulus. It’s even better if you can observe with friends. That way, you can keep each other awake, as well as cover more sky. Give your eyes time to dark-adapt before starting.
Good luck, stay warm, and here’s hoping you catch sight of lots of shooting stars.
Join The Discussion
Have you ever seen a shooting star?
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Joe Rao is an esteemed astronomer who writes for Space.com, Sky & Telescope, and Natural History Magazine. Mr. Rao is a regular contributor to the Farmers' Almanac and serves as an associate lecturer for the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.