Geminid Meteors Peak, And More Can\'t Miss Sky Shows In December

ILLINOIS — Astronomers and skywatchers could be light years apart over which meteor shower peak — the upcoming Geminids or late-summer's Perseids — offers the best chances for spectacular shooting stars. Somehow, it seems both sides could be correct. Weather conditions permitting in the skies of Illinois, the Geminid meteor shower will make its annual appearance Dec. 7 before the Geminids peak on Dec. 13-14.

The weather forecast in Chicagoland calls for nighttime rain and possibly even snow Thursday night and early morning showers on Friday, so our chances of seeing the show aren't great.

The main advantage the Perseids have over the Geminids is that you don't have to layer up with an extra coat and blankets to see the Perseids because they fly in August. But for our money, the Geminid meteor shower is well worth standing outside on a cold, dark night and looking up. The Geminids are reliably the most prolific meteor shower of the year, producing up to 120 shooting stars an hour — typically outperforming the summertime favorite.

The Geminids — which are multicolored, like blazing Christmas baubles — should put on a dazzling holiday show, often leaving long tails as they streak across the sky.

The meteors will be flying as early as 9 or 10 p.m. on the night of Thursday, Dec. 13, but Bill Cooke, NASA's meteor expert, said the best time to see the Geminids is around 2 a.m. local time on Friday, Dec. 14.

"The moon will be first quarter, so it will set around midnight," Cooke told "There will be no moonlight to interfere with the Geminids this year."

The meteor shower radiates from the bright constellation Gemini (the twins). In the Northern Hemisphere, look in the southwestern sky for the constellation Orion — it's the one with the three stars that make up the hunter's "belt" — and then look up and to the left to find Gemini, which is high in the southwestern sky.

But don't look directly at Gemini — you'll miss some of the amazing tails associated with this wintertime favorite. Instead, look slightly away from the constellation.

Here's a fun fact about the Geminids: First observed in 1833 from a riverboat on the Mississippi River, the shower is growing stronger as Jupiter's gravity tugs the stream of particles left behind by the shower's parent, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, closer to Earth.

There's one more meteor shower this year, the often overlooked Ursids, which produce a sleepy five or 10 meteors an hour, though occasional outbursts have produced 25 or more an hour. The show runs Dec. 17-25, and peaks Dec. 21-22, but there won't be much to see. A full moon will wash out all but the brightest meteors.

The Quadrantids meteor shower ushers in 2019, running just a few days, Jan. 1-5, and peaking Jan. 3-4. This shower is thought to be produced by dust grains from an extinct comet that wasn't discovered until 2003. A thin crescent moon shouldn't interfere too much with what predicts could be a decent show this year. The meteors radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky.

Image: A Geminid meteor streaks between peaks of the Seven Sisters rock formation early Dec, 14, 2010, in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The meteor display, known as the Geminid meteor shower because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini, is thought to be the result of debris cast off from an asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaethon. The shower is visible every December. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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