December 13, 2017, will provide a spectacular display in the night sky for all the star-lovers and sky-enthusiasts as they can enjoy Geminid meteor shower on display after 10 pm and in the wee hours of December 14, 2017, provided that clouds and light pollution do not obscure the view. If you’re gearing up to watch the meteor shower then leave the city behind and travel to a place not polluted by city lights and you’ll get to enjoy the Geminid meteor shower. The Geminid meteor shower occurs every year and is one of the most exciting meteor showers, not only because it is viewable by everyone from Earth but because they were a part of a greater scientific mystery. Here are some facts about meteors, what causes a meteor shower and how to see tonight’s Geminid meteor shower in India. Supermoon Trilogy: The Next Supermoons Will Occur on 1st and 31st January 2018 Also Read - 'Potentially Hazardous' Asteroid Will Zoom Past Earth on September 1, Is It Dangerous? Know Here
What are meteors and meteoroids?
When Earth passes through rocks and dust particles left behind by a comet and it hits our atmosphere, it burns with an intensity and light that we can see in the sky. Rocks and dust particles that are about to collide with Earth’s atmosphere are called meteoroids and those that enter the Earth’s atmosphere are called meteors. Also Read - In a Groundbreaking First, New Machine Learning Algorithm Confirms 50 New Planets
Cause of a meteor shower
Comets are chunks of ice with a lot of dust and when they come close to the sun during their orbit the ice melts and the dust and rocks are left behind along the orbit of the comet. When the Earth while revolving around the Sun passes through this debris they enter the Earth’s atmosphere with speed and due to the friction that develops burns up and give rise to not a single but numerous bright lights in the sky called a meteor shower. Also Read - Indian Satellite AstroSat Detects Extreme UV Light From Galaxy 9.3 Billion Light-Years Away
The reason behind the name of Geminid meteor shower
The Geminid meteor shower is named after the Gemini constellation in the night sky as the meteors appear to originate here. It is not actually a comet but an unusual asteroid called 3200 Phaeton which was discovered in 1983 and is the origin of these meteors.
What is an asteroid?
Asteroids are huge rocky bodies that revolve around the sun and originate from a region between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter. Their orbits are different than of a planet as they can be extremely elliptical and intersects the orbit of Mars and even Earth. The asteroids that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Apollo Asteroids.
Asteroid 3200 Phaethon
3200 Phaeton is named after the son of the Sun god Helios from Greek Mythology and is an Apollo Asteroid. It must have braved a collision with another object in the distant past to produce the particles and debris that Earth runs into. 3200 Phaeton has characteristics of a comet and has been reclassified as “rock” comet. It does not have any ice as it travels much closer to the sun as compared to other comets. As it reaches the extreme end of its orbit it expands, this contraction and expansion give 3200 Phaeton a distinctly rocky surface. In its close approach to Sun, it sheds a huge amount of rock and dust in its path that coincides with the Earth’s orbit during December 4-16 every year.
Geminid meteor shower happens every year
Geminid meteor shower peaks around the second week of December every year and are quite numerous.
Best time to watch the shower tonight
The meteor shower will start around 10 pm and will be visible in the northeastern sky, above the Orion constellation. The shower is supposed to be at its maximum around 2 am on December 14, 2017. The number of meteors is expected to reach up to 120 per hour. This year the visibility of this meteor shower will be high as the moon will only be a crescent and the moonlight will not be bright to suppress this celestial firework show. The moon in India is expected to rise around 1:40 am, the timing might vary depending on the geographical location.
Are the meteors visible to naked eye?
The meteors’ bright streaks of light will be visible to the naked eye and hence binoculars and telescope are not needed. However, one must ensure that they are away from the city lights to enjoy a more spectacular and clearer view.
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The year 2017 is probably going to be a remarkable year for astronomy. The Geminid meteor shower is expected in more numbers this year, the supermoon of the year just happened on December 3, 2017, and two full moons are expected to occur in January 2018 giving rise to blue moons.