Geminid meteor shower could be the year's best, scientists say

PHOTO: A huge meteor hurtles to earth during the annual Geminid meteor shower, Dec. 14, 2009, over the Mojave Desert area near Victorville, Calif.PlayWally Pacholka/Barcroft Media via Getty Images, FILE
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Skywatchers are in for a dazzling show tonight. The annual Geminid meteor shower that will streak across the night sky will be one of the best of the year, scientists say.

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The Geminid meteors are expected to peak overnight. With good weather conditions, the cosmic display can be seen between 7:30 p.m. and dawn local time. The largest number of meteors will be visible between midnight and 4 a.m. local time, according to NASA.

"With August's Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year," said Bill Cooke with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "The thin, waning crescent Moon won't spoil the show."

PHOTO: The radiant Geminid meteor shower over the Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, near the Atacama desert in Chile, Dec. 14, 2015. The Milky Way and bright stars, Rigel in Orion constellation, and Sirius in Canis Major constellation, shine brightly.Yuri Beletsky/Las Campanas Observatory/Carnegie Institution
The radiant Geminid meteor shower over the Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, near the Atacama desert in Chile, Dec. 14, 2015. The Milky Way and bright stars, Rigel in Orion constellation, and Sirius in Canis Major constellation, shine brightly.

Considered one of the year's most reliable meteor showers, the Geminids occur every December when Earth passes through a vast trail of dusty debris shed by a rocky object named 3200 Phaethon. The debris burns up when it runs into the Earth's atmosphere in a spate of "shooting stars," Cooke said.

The Geminid meteors are named for the constellation Gemini, from which they appear to come. They are typically bright and easy to spot without telescopes or binoculars; these meteors can be seen with the naked eye under clear, dark skies over most of the world. Though the best view is from the Northern Hemisphere, according to NASA.

PHOTO: The radiant Geminid meteor shower over the Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, south of Atacama desert, Chile. Dec. 14, 2013, taken using a long exposure. The brightest object close to center is Jupiter and Milky Way is at left.Yuri Beletsky/Las Campanas Obser
The radiant Geminid meteor shower over the Carnegie Las Campanas observatory, south of Atacama desert, Chile. Dec. 14, 2013, taken using a long exposure. The brightest object close to center is Jupiter and Milky Way is at left.

Not all of the meteors visible during the same time will belong to the Geminid shower. Some might be from weaker, active showers such as the Monocerotids, Sigma Hydrids and the Comae Berenicids, Cooke said.

"When you see a meteor, try to trace it backwards," he said. "If you end up in the constellation Gemini, there's a good chance you've seen a Geminid."

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