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Year's best meteor shower on tap this week


Andrew Fazekas, astronomer
December 10, 2012 — Skywatchers this week are in for a great cosmic holiday gift in the form of the Geminid meteor shower.


Geminids meteor shower captured by TWN viewer Nori Masuda on December 13, 2010 in Kananaskis, Alberta
Geminids meteor shower captured by TWN viewer Nori Masuda on December 13, 2010 in Kananaskis, Alberta

An annual sky show -- this years cosmic fireworks show will be particularly good because of the dark, moonless sky during peak dates of December 13th and 14th.

If clear skies prevail, a flurry of shooting stars should be seen falling at rates ranging from 30 to 120 per hour in the early morning hours of December 14th, depending on local light pollution conditions.

Best views will be from the dark countrysides, far from the bright city lights. But even suburban meteor observers under bright lights should get to see at least a dozen of the biggest and brightest meteors per hour.

The Geminids get their name form the Gemini constellation, which they appear to radiate out from -- and are caused by sand-grain sized particles shed centuries ago by a mysterious comet-like asteroid. 

Every year like clockwork, Earth slams into this cloud of debris with the tiny particles burning up in the upper atmosphere at speeds of 30 miles per second, only leaving behind a momentary streak across the sky.

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