The weather is getting colder, but there are some hot meteor showers worth checking out in December 2020. Two late-year meteor showers — the Geminids and the Ursids — will each be peaking during the next few weeks, sending a good number of shooting stars zipping across the sky.
Some astronomy experts say the Geminids will be the best meteor shower of the entire year, because of its timing, with hardly any moon light in the sky during its peak nights.
Here’s a closer look at these December meteor showers, the best times to look for them and how active they are expected to be.
Geminids meteor shower
When: The Geminids meteor shower will be visible from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17 in the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere. How good will it be? NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke told Space.com that the Geminids “will be the best meteor shower of 2020, no question about it.”
Peak: Its peak period will be overnight on Sunday, Dec. 13, into the early morning hours on Monday, Dec. 14, when the moon will be giving off very little light. On Dec. 13, the moon will be in its waxing crescent phase, with only 2% illumination, and on Dec. 14 it will be in its new moon phase, with no illumination — ideal for seeing shooting stars.
How active: This meteor shower usually generates as many as 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour, sometimes as many as 120 per hour, with the highest numbers in the darkest locations. EarthSky and other astronomy websites say this year should be on the higher side, because of the dark moon phase.
Fun facts: While most meteor showers originate from comets, the Geminids are actually small fragments of an asteroid. Another meteor shower that’s linked to an asteroid is the Quadrantids, peaking in early January.
Ursids meteor shower
When: The Ursids meteor shower will be visible from Dec. 17 to Dec. 26 in the northern hemisphere.
Peak: Its peak period will be overnight on Monday, Dec. 21 — the first day of winter — into the early morning hours on Tuesday, Dec. 22, when the moon will be 45% to 55% full. That could make it tough to see the faintest meteors.
How active: This meteor shower usually generates only five to 10 shooting stars per hour, with the highest numbers in the darkest locations. However, once in a while, this meteor shower over-performs. In 1945 and 1986, the Ursids produced as many as 50 meteors per hour, Space.com notes. In addition, there have been occasional years in which “bursts of 100 or more meteors per hour have been observed,” according to EarthSky.org.
Fun facts: “The shower is named the Ursids because the meteors seem to radiate from the direction of the constellation Ursa Minor in the sky,” says TimeAndDate.com. “The Ursids are associated with the 8P/Tuttle comet.”
Tips for viewing meteor showers
If you want to see a shooting star, experts say you should find a dark location — as far away as possible from street lights and bright city lights. Try going to a park or open field with a good view of the sky.
You don’t need any special equipment, like telescopes or binoculars. Astronomy experts say you just need your own set of eyes, but you should give them about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the dark before looking for meteors shooting across the sky.
If you have a blanket or a reclining lawn chair, you can lie down and look straight up into the night sky. Experts say it’s better to look at the entire sky, not just the origin point of the meteor shower.
If the moon is giving off a lot of light, either wait for the moon to dip lower in the sky or look as far away from the moonlight as possible.
Experts say the best time to look for meteor showers is generally from midnight to the pre-dawn hours. That’s when meteor showers tend to peak, producing the highest number of shooting stars per hour. Some of the Geminids can be seen in the late evening, but the best viewing time for this meteor shower is about 2 a.m., according to EarthSky.org.
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