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One of the year’s best meteor showers is happening on Sunday.
The peak of the brightest meteor shower of the year coincides with a moonless night on Sunday, December 13.
The Geminids light up the night sky every December, but this year’s show—which peaks the night of Sunday, December 13, into the morning of Monday, December 14—will be particularly good for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sky should be completely dark all night, thanks to a new moon falling on December 14. Secondly, some 50 meteors or more per hour are expected. That’s nearly one per minute, so if the weather is clear where you are, you’re basically guaranteed to see some shooting stars.
The Geminid meteor shower is known for producing some of the brightest shooting stars; it gets its name from how they appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini. However, the shooting stars you see on Earth actually come from the trail of debris the asteroid 3200 Phaethon leaves behind as it orbits the sun. As these meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere while the planet passes through its dust cloud, you’ll be able to see the streaks of light in the sky as they burn up.
While the Geminid meteor shower is active between December 4–17, 2020, your chances of seeing the most shooting stars at once begins midevening—around 9 or 10 p.m. your local time—on Sunday, December 13 through dawn on Monday, December 14, according to EarthSky.org. The greatest number of meteors should be visible around 2 a.m. in your local time zone.
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You can see the Geminids from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere where the skies are clear on the night of December 13, 2020. The Geminids are still visible in the Southern Hemisphere, just at lower rates. If you plan on viewing the meteor shower on Sunday night in the United States, you’ll find the clearest skies in the southern half of the country, according to an Accuweather forecast. However, many people throughout the Northeast, Ohio Valley, Pacific Northwest, and northern Rockies will struggle to see the Geminids due to clouds and stormy patterns this year.
If you live in a rural place outside of a city with little to no light pollution, watching a meteor shower is a great activity for sheltering in place since all you’ll need to do is turn off your lights and head out to your backyard.
City dwellers looking for darker skies will need to be cautious and respectful of local coronavirus travel restrictions when seeking out darker skies this year. Because watching meteor showers requires you to be outside, it can still be a safe socially distanced activity if you respect local travel restrictions and remember to wear a face mask when around anyone outside of your immediate household.
To find a dark sky place, search the International Dark-Sky Association’s website for locations.
The Geminids are bright enough to see without a telescope. But since you’ll need to give your eyes around 45 minutes to adjust to the dark, you’ll want a few blankets and chairs to stay warm and comfortable outside in the December chill.
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A wearable sleeping bag will keep things warm on chilly nights, while a reclining camp chair can help prevent a sore neck the next day. You’ll want to pick up a headlamp with a red-light setting to help illuminate the path to your stargazing spot without introducing unwanted light to the area, too. Here are some of our favorite gear picks for each of those scenarios:
Buy now: Selk’bag Original 6G Wearable Sleeping Bag, $170, selkbagusa.com
Buy now: Nemo Stargaze Recliner Luxury Chair, $220, rei.com
Buy now: Petzl Tikka Headlamp, $30, rei.com
And don’t forget a thermos of something warm. Need some international inspiration? Check out some of our favorite hot alcoholic drinks from around the world.
If you end up missing the Geminids this December, you won’t have to wait long for 2021’s first celestial event to happen. The Quadrantids will peak late at night on Saturday, January 2, and into the early morning hours of Sunday, January 3, 2021. It’s predicted that the Quadrantids will produce about 25 meteors per hour, but keep in mind that the moon will be 84 percent full that night so you’ll have to deal with a lot of moonlight in addition to chilly temperatures.
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