Grab a group of friends, a blanket and head to a dark field away from the city this weekend for the chance to see fireballs falling from space during the year’s brightest meteor shower.
The Geminids are visible every December as Earth passes through the massive trail of debris shed by an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon. Kaurn Thanjavur, a senior astronomy lab instructor at University of Victoria, says the meteor shower is named after the direction the shooting stars come from — the constellation of Gemini.
Thanjavur says the Geminids are special and explains that normally shooting stars come from comets, often referred to as dirty snowballs, which are made of up of rock and ice. The Geminids are coming from an asteroid meaning the shooting stars are made of rock and will be more colourful and brighter for longer because they don’t burn up as quickly.
“There’s a high chance of seeing fireballs,” he says, adding they should be visible for several seconds. “If you’re fairly quick, you can even get a picture of those meteors.”
According to Thanjavur the best time to view the shower is from 11 p.m. on Friday to 2 a.m. on Saturday. “It’s nice to have few people together so everyone scans in a different direction and calls out when they see one of the fireballs,” he says.
And even if you don’t see any shooting stars, Thanjavur says it’s a great time to observe the Gemini constellation, which makes the twins. In order to find Gemini you’ll need to locate the twin stars — Castor and Pollux — which mark the heads of the twins.
According to NASA, waiting until about 10:30 p.m. when the moon’s light is less bright is best in order to see the more faint meteors, which are more numerous. Find the darkest place you can, give your eyes 30 minutes to adapt to the dark and avoid looking at your phone. Lie flat on your back with a view of the sky from horizon to horizon, taking in as much of the sky as possible and you’ll begin to see the shooting stars.