Geminids! Make a wish?
Most of us have wished to catch a glimpse of a ‘shooting star’ as a child just so we could have that one childish wish granted. While life, and a little bit reasoning, tells us as we grow that rocks passing through Earth’s atmosphere and getting burned up don’t hold powers to grant wishes, children who are now adults would still love to have a glimpse of a shooting star on some random night. Shooting stars, or meteors as they are correctly called are a remarkable sight. And if someone thinks looking at one meteor a night is cool, wait for their reaction on the nights of meteor showers!
Meteor Shower: What Are They?
Meteor showers are a show of celestial fireworks with tens to hundreds of metors streaking through the dark skies in one single night. Something everyone must experience at least once in their humble lifetimes. Now, its of no good, talking about meteor showers and their grandeur if you can’t know when the next one is visible, so grab on your chair, and read on, because we have the best meteor shower of the year approaching us.
The meteors that make it to the surface of Earth are called meteorites, but meteorites are very rare due to the usual small size of these rocks.
Almost every meteoroid is a rock debris left behind by a comet orbiting the Sun on its path. When Earth passes through this debris left behind by a comet near Earth’s orbit, the debris is attracted into the Earth’s atmosphere due to gravity where it burns up from the heat caused by friction. These burning chunks of rocks appear like ‘shooting stars’ to the eyes of innocent kids, and unaware adults. On most nights Earth might tug in only a few of these, but on some occasions it passes through a big swarm of rock debris, and so many meteors are visible cruising through the atmosphere, that it appears like a shower of lights, called meteor showers. All prominent meteor showers have their reserves continuously replenished by comets that are periodic and hence keep passing through their usual orbit, thus every time Earth passes these reserves of space debris, humans get to enjoy some fireworks in the sky. These regular meteor showers occur every year, and every major meteor shower has a comet associated with it, but one. This one meteor shower is not caused by a comet, but an asteroid!
The Geminids meteor shower occurs every December, between the dates of 4th to 27th , and on one night peaks to its greatest rate, which is called the ZHR or the Zenithal Hourly Rate. This peak date lies on 13th-14th December depending on the observer’s timezone. The Geminids are can reach a ZHR of an average 120 meteors per hour, and combined with their prominence and brightness, are arguably the best meteor showers of the year.
Geminids are the only rock debris left behind by an 5 km big asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, which takes 1.4 years to orbiting the Sun, in its elliptical orbit. The asteroid is also called a rock comet because of the lack of a coma or tail. 3200 Phaethon is thought to have gone through a collision in the past which created the meteoroids of Geminids.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation where the radiant point (from which they seem to be radiating in all the directions in the sky) lies. Since the radiant point of Geminids falls near the star Castor of the Gemini constellation, they have their namesake. But to observe meteor showers you don’t necessarily need to look in the direction of the constellation, and can catch a fair view of the show even in the opposite direction. Its just that if you trace the path of all the meteors backwards , they all seem to be radiating from a common point, which for Geminids lies in Gemini.
When to schedule the watch?
The best time to catch any celestial show, is in the absence of Moon, when its brightness cannot interfere with the show. During the peak of Geminids, Moon is in its first quarter phase and sets before midnight, hence the Geminids are very prominent around 2 A.M. of their peak dates. This year Geminids will peak on 14th – 15th December in India. So, all you need to do is to grab on a comfortable and warm jacket or something to cover yourself up, travel to a pollution free area away from cities, and just lie down peacefully under the stars.
Watch and photograph the best meteor shower of the year along with the comet 46P/Wirtanen this December! Bookings open now @ Astroport India send your query at bit.ly/Astroport Happy sky-gazing!