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We can see a lot of “shooting stars” this week!

We can see a lot of “shooting stars” this week!

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December is not only known as Christmas or New Year’s Eve, but it is also the month in which we can enjoy the beautiful Geminid meteor showers which we also know colloquially as “shooting stars”. Among experts, the Geminid meteor shower is described as one of the most active and also one of the most beautiful annual meteor showers that is definitely worth braving the cold nights for. These meteors can be seen every year between December 9 and 19. The highlight of this year’s annual meteor shower will occur on Thursday, December 14, and conditions are particularly favorable this year!

Since the radiant (the point in the sky from which meteors appear) is always very high in the sky during the peak, the number of meteors can rise to more than 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. In clear weather, you can see dozens of meteors per hour at night in the previous or following days. This year, conditions during the peak period are favorable as the weak crescent does not interfere. At around 2:30 a.m. Belgian time (December 15), the Geminid meteor shower’s radiance is about 70 degrees above the horizon in the constellation Gemini. The best time to go out is after 12:45 AM (December 15). It is estimated that up to 80 meteors per hour could be seen this year. When the weather is clear, it is highly recommended to look at the starry sky in the park or in a dark place.

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Illustration: Daisy Dobrijevic/The Future

From asteroid 3200 Phaethon

Most meteor showers form when Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. This is different with Gemini because these meteorites come from the large, five-kilometer-long asteroid 3200 Phaethon. When Earth crosses the orbit of asteroid 3200 Phaeton, several meteorites appear that appear to come from the constellation Gemini. Geminids are often very fast and bright and have shorter paths than other meteorites. The average speed of these meteorites is about 36 kilometers per second (129,600 kilometers per hour), they are often yellowish in color, and they often have short paths. Meteors are often colloquially referred to as “shooting stars” as the star appears to rapidly “fall” downwards. Long ago, when such phenomena could not yet be explained, a shooting star was considered a harbinger of future events. In fact, it is about very small pieces of rock and debris, asteroid 3200 Phaeton, that enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speeds, and then evaporate at an altitude of 80 to 120 kilometers. Unlike other meteor showers, the Geminid meteors were only seen for the first time in 1862, making it a “minor” meteor shower from an astronomical perspective. In comparison, Leonid meteorites have been observed since 902 AD, and “shooting stars” known as Perseids were first described as early as 36 AD.

How to observe meteors?

To observe “meteors” or meteors, you do not need special equipment such as an expensive telescope. Only warm clothes, a camp bed or deck chair, and a site with little to no light pollution are enough. So an open field away from the city is the ideal location. It is usually enough to look at the starry sky naked for about fifteen minutes to see one or more “shooting stars.” Make sure you get a clear view of the beautiful dark dome of the sky and let your eyes get used to the darkness for about fifteen minutes. A star map or astronomy app on your smartphone is always useful if you want to know where the Perseus constellation is and don’t look at the bright light of your smartphone too much!

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