In 2022, the Geminids will peak around December 13-14.
What are ‘Geminids’?
- Geminids comes from the constellation Gemini, from whose location in the sky the meteor shower appears to originate.
- The constellation for which a meteor shower is named only serves to aid viewers in determining which shower they are viewing on a given night.
- The constellation is not the source of the meteors.
- If their peak coincides with the new moon, and if the weather is clear, the Geminids can produce approximately 100-150 meteors per hour for viewing.
- This year however, the moon is bright, and so only 30-40 meteors per hour will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere.
- The Geminids are unique because unlike most meteor showers, they originate not from a comet, but from an asteroid, the 3200 Phaethon.
3200 Phaethon –
- The 3200 Phaethon was discovered on October 11, 1983.
- It is named after the Greek mythology character Phaethon, son of the Sun God Helios.
- It takes 1.4 years to complete one round of the Sun.
- As the 3200 Phaethon moves close to the Sun while orbiting it, the rocks on its surface heat up and break off.
- When the Earth passes through the trail of this debris, the Geminids are caused.
What causes meteor showers?
- Meteors are usually fragments of comets.
- As they enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, they burn up, creating a spectacular “shower”.
- Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from asteroids.
- When these objects come around the Sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them.
- Every year Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere where they disintegrate to create fiery and colourful streaks in the sky.
Important terminological differences –
- Comet: A body of ice, rock and dust that can be several miles in diameter and orbits the sun. Debris from comets is the source of many meteoroids.
- Meteoroid: A small rocky or metal object, usually between the size of a grain of sand or a boulder, that orbits the sun. It originates from a comet or asteroid.
- Meteor: A meteoroid that enters the earth’s atmosphere and vaporises. Also called a “shooting star.”
- Meteorite: A meteor that hits Earth without burning up in the atmosphere i.e. it reaches the Earth’s surface.
- Meteor shower: A collection of meteors visible when Earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet.
- Asteroid: An object larger than a meteoroid that orbits the sun and is made of rock or metal. Historically, objects larger than 10 meters across have been called asteroids.