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Explained: What makes the Geminids meteor shower unique?

Soon after the Geminids meteor shower, viewers in the northern hemisphere can expect to see the Ursids meteor shower, which will be active from December 17-December 26 and will peak right before Christmas on the night of December 21-December 22.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 14, 2020 6:36:35 pm
The Geminids meteor showers are unique because their origin does not lie in a comet, but what is believed to be an asteroid or an extinct comet.(Twitter/@SPACEdotcom)

The Geminids meteor shower, believed to be the strongest of the year, is active from December 4-December 20, with December 13 and 14 considered to be the best nights for viewing these meteor showers.

Soon after the Geminids meteor shower, viewers in the northern hemisphere can expect to see the Ursids meteor shower, which will be active from December 17-December 26 and will peak right before Christmas on the night of December 21-December 22.

However, the rate of Ursids is much less than Geminids. Geminids viewers in the northern hemisphere can expect to see about 60 meteors per hour compared to Ursids, whose observers can typically see 5-10 meteors per hour.

What are meteor showers?

Meteors are bits of rock and ice that are ejected from comets as they manoeuvre around their orbits around the sun. For instance, the Orionids meteors emerge from the comet 1P/Halley and make their yearly presence in October. Meteor showers are witnessed when Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by a comet or an asteroid.

When a meteor reaches the Earth, it is called a meteorite and a series of meteorites, when encountered at once, is termed a meteor shower. According to NASA, over 30 meteor showers occur annually and are observable from the Earth.

As meteors fall towards the Earth, the resistance makes the space rocks extremely hot and, as meteorites pass through the atmosphere, they leave behind streaks of glowing gas that are visible to the observers and not the rock itself.

Why is the Geminid meteor shower considered to be the best of the year?

The Geminids meteor showers are unique because their origin does not lie in a comet, but what is believed to be an asteroid or an extinct comet. The Geminids emerge from 3200 Phaethon, which meteor scientists consider to be an asteroid.

Discovered on October 11, 1983, the asteroid is over 5 km in diameter and was named after the Greek myth of Phaethon, the son of Sun god Helios.

According to NASA, the Geminids rate will be better this year because the shower’s peak overlaps with a nearly new moon, which means there will be darker skies and no moonlight to wash out the fainter meteors. While the meteors peaked on the night of December 13 to the dawn of December 14, some meteor activity may still be visible in the days before and after this peak.

NASA says that Geminids travel at a speed of 78,000 mph or 35 km/s, which is over 1000 times faster than a cheetah, about 250 times faster than the swiftest car in the world and about 40 times faster than a speeding bullet.

Meteors are best visible on a cloudless night and when the Moon is not extremely bright. Chances of a successful viewing are higher from locations far away from the lights of cities. Generally, pollution makes viewing meteor showers from India difficult to view. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

But in areas where there is no light or air pollution, viewers do not need to use any special equipment to view the showers and one should make sure to give enough time to let the eyes adjust to the darkness, which can take about 30 minutes. Additionally, viewers should try to stay away from their phones as looking at bright screens affects night vision.

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