December brings not only the holiday season but also one of the best meteor showers of the year. The Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak in 2023, on the morning of December 14. The Geminids are a reliable shower for those who watch around 2 a.m. local time from a dark-sky location. Under ideal conditions, you might catch up to 150 Geminid meteors per hour. However, this number is subject to change based on various factors such as the time of day, location, and weather conditions.
A dark sky area is a location that has been designated as a place where the night sky is protected from light pollution. These areas are typically located far away from cities and other sources of artificial light, and they are often home to some of the darkest skies in the world.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is an organization that works to protect the night skies by promoting responsible lighting practices and raising awareness about the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the night sky. The IDA has established a certification program for dark sky areas, which includes parks, reserves, sanctuaries, and other protected areas around the world.
Some of the criteria that must be met for an area to be certified as a dark sky area include the following:
- The area must have a nighttime environment that is free from light pollution.
- The area must have a management plan in place to protect the night sky.
- The area must have public education and outreach programs to raise awareness about the importance of dark skies.
The Geminids meteor shower is caused by debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Unlike most meteor showers, which are caused by comets, the Geminids are caused by an asteroid with a “rock comet” orbit. The asteroid’s orbit carries it very close to the Sun, less than half the distance of Mercury’s closest approach to the Sun. When the Earth passes through the debris trail left by the asteroid, the debris enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, creating a meteor shower. The Geminids meteor shower was first discovered in 1862. This makes the meteor shower a relatively recent discovery compared to other meteor showers such as the Leonids, which were first observed in 902 AD, and the Perseids, which were first documented in 36 AD.
If you miss the Geminids, you can check out the Ursid (URS) meteor activity begins annually around December 17 and runs for over a week, until the 25th or 26th. This meteor shower is named for its radiant point, which is located near the star Beta Ursae Minoris (Kochab) in the constellation Ursa Minor. So the year while you are checking the skies for Santa you may just see a few meteors as well.