As every year, shooting stars can be observed in large numbers in the run-up to Christmas, and the Geminid meteor shower is on the agenda for the coming nights. The peak will be reached in the middle of next week, but the chances of catching a fading meteor are already increasing nightly. But will the weather even cooperate?
Poor conditions in the north for observing the Geminids at their peak
The Geminids are heading towards their peak, the maximum is expected tomorrow evening at around 8 pm. Observation conditions are poor in the north, with many clouds covering the sky and only a few cloud gaps at most. Things look better in the south: The further south, the fewer clouds there are, and in southern Ticino it is even largely clear.
Alongside the Perseids in August, the Geminids are among the strongest shooting star events in the course of a year; at their maximum, between 50 and 150 meteors per hour can be observed. The unique feature of the Geminids is their original body. Most star showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris field of a comet – In the case of the Perseids, this is comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, for example. Comets are also known as dirty snowballs; their density is comparatively low. The Geminids, on the other hand, are the remains of the asteroid 3200 Phaeton, a more compact object with a diameter of around 6 kilometers. The particles enter the Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 35 kilometers per second, which is comparatively slow. The individual shooting stars are brighter than average and appear white-yellowish in color. Due to their slower speed, they also shine for a relatively long time as they burn up and can therefore be seen more easily by the human eye.
Fig. 1: Glowing trail of a burning up meteor; Source: pixabay
Over the last few years, the activity of the Geminids has steadily increased, so that they are now likely to surpass the Perseids, which have been leading in this respect to date. This year, the maximum will be reached on the evening of December 14 . The actual peak occurs at around 8 pm, but unlike other meteor streams, the maximum is very widely dispersed – so the time doesn't really matter. The main thing is that it is dark enough and the view of the sky is clear.
In this case, the apparent origin of the shooting stars is in the constellation of Gemini, which is where the name comes from. The constellation Gemini rises in the east in the evening and then moves across the sky until sunrise. This means that the meteors can be seen from dusk until dawn. In the middle of the night, Gemini is almost at its zenith. The moon is also not a disturbing factor this year, the crescent is still very thin after the new moon and also sets early in the evening.
And the weather?
Unfortunately, it's anything but ideal, at least until the middle of next week. Tomorrow, Thursday, there will be an intermediate high, but by the evening there will be a lot of high clouds in the sky again. The clouds will thicken further during the night. Friday will be generally cloudy and wet at times. At the weekend, the sun will occasionally appear during the day, but clouds will dominate in the evenings and at night. From Monday to Wednesday, the chances remain poor, with clouds and frequent precipitation on the agenda. From today's perspective, there is a glimmer of hope just at the actual peak on the evening of December 14! According to the current timetable, a high is building up and the weather is calming down. However, there is still considerable uncertainty over this distance, and an update will follow here in due course.
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