What makes the Geminid meteor shower 2020 so special? In the late evening of Sunday, December 13, 2020 and into the early hours of Monday, December 14, 2020 our satellite will be just a few hours from being an invisible New Moon, and will therefore be completely absent from the night sky.
That’s also the precise time that the constellation of Gemini—the visual origin of the “shooting stars”—will be high in the sky, and when it’s properly dark on the night-side of Earth.
Cue an extra-special Geminid meteor shower!
It was already destined to be worth watching because this northern hemisphere-centric display of shooting stars is not only the brightest, the most reliable and most plentiful of the year, but also the most colorful.
We’re talking up to 150 multicoloured “shooting stars” each hour between late evening and dawn on December 13-14.
You don’t want to miss this.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Geminids meteor shower.
What to expect from the Geminids meteor shower
Get ready for the strongest and most impressive meteor shower of 2020.
The Geminids often play second fiddle to the Perseids meteor shower in August, but they shouldn’t since December’s display is getting better each year.
As well as being well known for being active well before midnight, the Geminids themselves tend to be often bright and intensely colored (mostly yellow, but sometimes red or blue), though slow-moving. They travel at a relatively leisurely 22 miles/35 km per second, according to the American Meteor Society.
However, “shooting stars” tend to wax wand wane and come in groups, so spend at least an hour outside—and preferably two hours—to maximize your chances of having that “wow!” moment.
How best to view the Geminids
Mid-December in the northern hemisphere can present a few challenges to the “shooting stars”-spotter. Here’s how to get the very best out of this year’s spectacular shower while staying alive to tell the tale:
Remember that you’ll be standing still, for most of the night, so take an extra layer or two and possibly a blanket as well as hat, gloves, and even a balaclava.
Take a lawn chair or similar to sit in and have a flask of hot drink nearby. Snacks that can be eaten easily while you look up at the night sky would be handy, too—they’ll help keep you warm.
Night vision takes about 30 minutes to nurture, so don’t make a judgement on whether this meteor shower is worth it or not before that time.
Where to look
Although the Geminids originate from the constellation of Gemini, they can appear anywhere in the sky, so it doesn’t really matter where you look. However, bear in mind that if you look generally to the east shortly after nightfall you may see “shooting stars” racing over your head. If you turn to face west you’re likely see them moving away from you.
Get to midnight
Another way of maximising your chances is to stay out until midnight, and preferably until around 1 am. That way, you will have the constellation of Gemini directly above you and in the darkest part of the sky.
If the weather doesn’t play ball on the night of the peak of the Geminids meteor shower, make a plan to come out the following evening. Although you may not see quite as many “shooting stars,” this is one display that tends to remain fairly bright and plentiful for an extra night or so after the peak.
Exactly when do the Geminids ‘peak?’
The Geminids meteor shower runs from December 4 through December 17 each year, peaking on the night of December 13 and 14 in 2020.
The precise peak of activity is at 01:00 Universal Time on December 14, which is spot-on perfect for anyone in Europe, and translates to early evening in North America. However, those details don’t makes a huge difference this year since the peak tends to be stretched over several hours.
What causes the Geminids?
Meteor showers are called by debris left in the solar system by comments, right? That’s true for almost all shooting stars, but not so for the Geminids, which are the result of a large astroid called 3200 Phaethon. Only discovered in 1983 and named after the son of Helios (the Greek god of the Sun), 3200 Phaethon is a near-Earth asteroid that orbits the sun every 1.4 years.
The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) plans to send a probe called DESTINY+ to 3200 Phaethon, launching in 2022.
So one day we’ll know a lot about the source of the spectacular Geminids meteor shower. For now, just enjoy the magical and multicoloured sight of up to 150 “shooting stars” in moonless skies.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.