The Geminid meteor shower 2012, the final major meteor shower of every year and likely to be the best, peaks overnight this Thursday and Friday, and you may be able to see a great show on either side of those dates.
NASA reports that the Geminids are a relatively young meteor shower, with the first sightings occurring in the 1830s with rates of about 20 per hour.
Over the decades the rates have increased, regularly spawning between 80 and 120 per hour at its peak on a clear evening.
Earthsky.org reports the Geminids peak might be around 2 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, because that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen around the world.
"With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers," Earthsky reports. "Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Dec. 14."
The Geminid meteor shower is named after
the constellation Gemini, which is located in roughly the same point of the night sky where the Geminid meteor shower appears to originate.
Geminids are pieces of debris from 3200 Phaethon, basically a rocky skeleton of a comet that lost most of its its outer covering of ice after too many close encounters with the sun.
Tips for watching, from Earthsky.org:
Most important: a dark sky. To watch meteors, you need a dark sky.
Know your dates and times. Best viewing of the Geminids in Reston and Northern Virginia will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday.
What to bring. You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck, the hood of your car, the side of a road. Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly enough.
Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.