Geminid meteor shower to peak Thursday and Friday - plus, a comet!

The year's most spectacular meteor shower is this weekend

The year's most spectacular meteor shower is this weekend

The shower peaks in the early morning hours Thursday and Friday, as Earth crosses the debris trail of the comet 3200 Phaethon. Rates for this shower remain decent for a few days, however, so target the night before or after the peak if the weather looks bad on December 13/14.

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'Star gazers will be looking for clear, cloudless skies to have the best possible chance of catching a glimpse of the meteor shower, ' said a Met office spokesperson. Although many people consider it to be a poor cousin to August's Perseid shower, the Geminids often put on a better show.

The Geminid meteor shower occurs as Earth moves through the debris shed from asteroid 3200 Phaethon as it orbits the sun.

Meteors - grains of debris that burn up in our atmosphere - can be spotted on any given night, but nearly once a month, Earth plows through a collection of dust and particles left over from a passing comet or asteroid, causing what's known as a meteor shower. The meteor shower is named after the constellation in that part of the sky.

The three-mile-wide object, which NASA describes as a "rock comet", was discovered in 1983 by two British scientists examining NASA satellite images.

When the moon sets around 10:30 p.m. local time, according to NASA, you should find a dark place, give your eyes time to adjust, lie on your back and look up. "But it will certainly be bright enough to see with binoculars - although keep in mind that, as with all stargazing, you'll get a better view if you can get away from light pollution". Just look up and you should see some streaking across the sky.

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"Even though the Geminids are rich in handsome green fireballs, the lights of New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta will blot even them out".

For starters, go out to a dark-sky location such as a park.

Though they originate from 3200 Phaethon, the Geminids appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini-hence the shower's name.

The comet should be visible just above the eastern horizon Sunday night and will be closest at about 8 a.m.

The Geminids begin as tiny specks of dust that hit Earth's atmosphere at 22 miles per second, vaporizing from friction with the air and leaving behind the streaks of light we call meteors.

You can track the comet online using the Virtual Telescope Project.

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