Vol.1, No.6

How to watch an asteroid shower

The Geminid is the only known asteroid shower. Get some tips here on asteroid gazing.

Conception of Asteroids
Photo Credit: Michael Knight
Asteroids are defined as many small celestial bodies that revolve around the sun. Their orbits lay mainly between Mars and Jupiter. They can be up to several hundred kilometers in diameter. Asteroids are also known as planetoids, minor planets, or meteors. More than 10,000 asteroids have orbits very well known and have even been names and catalogued, although thousands more exist. Most asteroids have an irregular shape, unlike Earth or other planets that have shapes similar to spheres.

There is only one known asteroid shower. The only known asteroid shower visits earth each and every December. Each December, the earth plows through what is called the Geminid meteor stream. This asteroid shower has puzzled many experts. Meteor showers usually come from comets, but the Geminid parent looks like an asteroid.

Usually, a meteor shower's dust is from a comet, but the Geminid meteor shower is unique, because some believe that the dust is not from a comet but from an asteroid called the 3200 Phaethon. This is what the earth rides into every December - 3200 Phaethon's dust stream. These bits of dust travel about 80,000 miles per hour, hit the earth's atmosphere, and turn unto glowing meteors. The Geminids will streak all over the sky. If you have ever had the pleasure of spotting a shooting star, an asteroid shower is like seeing many beautiful shooting stars streaking across the sky.

The most fascinating part of the Geminids asteroid shower is that they all lead back to a beaming point in the constellation known as the Gemini. In 2004, Gemini's point laid right next to the planet Saturn. The asteroids were straight overhead at midnight, making it quite easy to see from just about anywhere.

Tips for Watching the Geminid:

If you want to see the only known asteroid shower, you should go out after dark and examine the skies all night long, looking back and forth. The less moonlight, the better you will be able to see the meteors. Also, it is best to stay as far away from city lights as possible. The glare from city lights and other bright lights can significantly diminish the amount of meteors you will see. Stay as far away from lights as possible for the best view. The darker it is around you, the better you will be able to see the magnificent streams of light. You can begin searching for the Geminids asteroid shower as soon as the sun goes down, but the best time to see them is during the middle of the night.

Check online with NASA around the beginning of December to get the best tips for that particular year. Sometimes, a certain day is better to look outside and search for the magnificent glow of the Geminid asteroids. They will also have information about where in the sky to look for the streams of light. It will be different in different parts of the earth, but the Geminid asteroid shower should be visible from just about anywhere.