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Here's How to Watch Tonight's Geminid Meteor Shower

News Astronomy
by Suzie Dundas Dec 13, 2021

2021 has proved to be nearly as challenging as 2020 stress-wise, putting everyone through yet another year of limited visits with family, delayed travel, and stressful work and home situations. But sometimes, staring at the sky can be a great way to get a few minutes of peace and remind yourself that we’re just tiny pieces in a vast cosmic universe.

Fortunately, tonight is the best day to view one of the best meteor showers of the year: the Geminid Meteor shower. Here’s how to optimize your chances of seeing the fabulous celestial show.

When should you watch the Geminid Meteor shower?

The evening of December 13 through the morning of December 14 is the best evening to view it. On a clear night in past years, viewers have been able to see up to 60 meteors (“shootings stars”) per hour. Unfortunately, the moon will be about 80 percent full tonight, which will make the sky brighter and limit the number of meteors you can see from Earth. It’ll also start rising early in the night, which makes 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. still fairly bright. However, the moon will set between 3 and 4 a.m., depending on your location. So the best time to view it will be in that window: after moonset and before sunrise.

Who will be able to see the Geminid Meter shower?

Anyone in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to spot the meteors, though of course, areas with clearer skies will have better luck. If you’re in Mexico or nearing the equator, you’ll still be able to see some meteors., just not as many as skywatchers further north.

How can you maximize your chances of spotting meteors?

The most important factor (aside from whether the sky above you is clear) is how much light pollution you have in your area. If you live in a suburban or rural area that’s fairly dark at night, you’ll probably be able to see some night sky action from your backyard or neighborhood park. However, if you live in a city where the sky is fairly bright, you may need to head out of town.

Check to see if there are any dark sky parks near you or check to see if any nearby organizations are hosting night-sky events. If you have to drive out of town to find a primo viewing spot, pack your car ahead of time with sleeping bags, pillows, warm socks, beanies, and gloves so you don’t have to remember to bring anything when you wake up groggy at 2:30 a.m.

Aside from location, the other key piece of advice for watching the Geminid Meteor shower is to let your eyes adjust to the darkness. It’ll take about 15 minutes away from bright light for your eyes to see as much as they’re capable of, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see any at first.

And if you’re worried about whether you’ll see any, consider downloading a night sky cell phone app like SkyView or NightSky. Both apps use location services and augmented reality to point out features of the night sky like planets, satellites, and constellations. If you have one of those apps, you can turn your early morning into a romantic sky-viewing session, even if you don’t see too many meteors.

What’s the difference between a meteor, meteoroid, asteroid, and shooting star?

Get ready to impress your friends with your NASA-level knowledge. Meteors are tiny particles of space dust that make it into Earth’s atmosphere (which is why you can see them). They burn up as they pass through, creating what looks like a train following behind them — hence why we also refer to them as “shooting stars.” Meteorites are meteors that actually hit the planet; i.e., space rocks. Asteroids can be much, much bigger (planet-sized, sometimes) and stay in deep space, never entering any of Earth’s atmospheric layers.

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