The Unpopular Meteor Shower

Everyone in Canada looks forward to the Perseid meteor shower each August.  The weather is warm, the skies are clear, and they have a high zenithal hourly rate (ZHR).  But once they are done, it’s not long before the weather starts to cool down, Canada moves into Autumn and eventually the deep freeze of winter sends our fine nation into hibernation.  But if you do feel like coming out of your fort this weekend, in an unseasonably warm December, you will be treated to what has often been the best meteor shower of the year: The Geminids.

Credit: Greg Smye-Rumsby / Astronomy Now

Under ideal conditions, the Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors per hour, about the same as the Perseids.  They are generally avoided due to the nip of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but with warm temperatures and a thin crescent Moon, this could be the best meteor shower of the year.  And that is no small claim since the Perseids this year were incredible!

The Geminid meteors are the result of debris from the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which is thought to be a dead comet.  Bits of debris from the Geminids enter the atmosphere at 35 Km/s, incredibly fast, yet relatively slow for meteors, meaning the resulting streaks will be easy to catch.  They also happen to produce bright yellow streaks, making them very easy to spot.

From Toronto, and most of Canada, Gemini rises due East at about 6:30pm EST.  It will be dark so early on in the night it will be easier to see meteors that we call ‘Earth-grazers,’ producing long streaks across the sky.  As the constellation moves further overhead meteors will fill up the sky.

The shower peaks on the morning of December 14th, around 7am EST, so stay up late or get up early and watch before sunrise!

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