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Brilliant Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

A meteor (L) from the Geminids meteor shower enters the Earth's atmosphere past the stars Castor and Pollux (two bright stars, R) on December 12, 2009 above Southold, New York. This meteor shower gets the name "Geminids" because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are pieces of debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Earth runs into a stream of debris from the object every year in mid-December, causing the meteors. The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14.  (Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

The peak of the shower is expected the night of December 13-14 at about 0500 GMT on December 14. (Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

CBS NEWS – Skywatchers around the world are in for a treat tonight, as the annual Geminid meteor shower is poised to put on a spectacular show.

The Geminids will peak overnight tonight (Dec. 13) with the moon at its new phase. The skies will thus be free of the moon’s glare, allowing viewers in rural areas to see perhaps 100 or more meteors per hour, experts say.

A new and as-yet unnamed meteor shower may also make an appearance tonight, ramping up the celestial display even further.

“Meteors from the new shower (if any) will be visible in the early evening, with the Geminids making their appearance later on and lasting until dawn,” Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, said in a statement. [Photos: Geminid Meteor Shower of December 2011]

The Geminids — so named because they appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini (The Twins) — result when Earth plows through debris shed by the huge, enigmatic asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This is unusual for annual meteor showers, which are typically caused by comet particles.

The potential new shower’s source is a comet called Wirtanen, Cooke said. Earth hasn’t run into Wirtanen’s debris stream before, but computer models suggest this year could be different.

If the new shower does indeed materialize, it could produce up to 30 meteors per hour tonight by itself, Cooke said. These shooting stars will seem to be coming from the constellation Picses (The Fish), so the shower may end up being called the Piscids.

A few scattered Geminids can be spotted shortly after sunset tonight. The show will really start picking up around 10 p.m. local time, experts say, and it should peak at 2 a.m. or so. You won’t need binoculars or a telescope to see the shooting stars; just crane your neck up, preferably in a spot away from bright city lights.

READ MORE AT CBSNEWS.COM

 

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