The Geminids are here! Yes, the granddaddy of all meteor showers began on the seventh and will continue through the seventeenth. And the peak viewing period this year is on the evening of the 13th and early morning hours of the 14th. If the sky is clear there should be good viewing through the seventeenth.
The Geminids are known for producing a lot of showy meteors, perhaps up to 120 per hour or even more during the peak period. Plus, these meteors have the reputation of being unusually bright with long trails that persist longer than other meteor showers. We are almost to a full moon, so that certainly won’t help the viewing, but it is still worth checking occasionally.
It is hard to believe that most meteors are only the size of a grain of sand or so. But they are cruising through space at roughly 30 miles per second. That is 1,800 miles per minute, or 108,000 miles per hour. That would take you from Fargo/Moorhead to Beach in a little under 12 seconds.
Most meteor showers are caused by comets which are mixtures of ice, rock, and dust. They are often described as “dirty snowballs” a few miles in diameter. When they pass near the sun in their orbit, they slough-off small, sand-sized particles. Then as the particles hit the earth’s atmosphere, they get glowing hot and look like, well, a “falling star.”
The Geminids are a bit different though. Along with the Quadrantids Meteor Shower, they are not caused by comets. These meteors are derived from asteroids. The source of the Geminids was not discovered until the early 1980’s.
For early civilizations, meteor showers were anything but falling particles of comets or asteroids. Some believed they were actually falling stars, others saw them as portending gloom and doom, good luck, or bad luck. Some even saw them as souls coming or going from earth during a birth or death.
So if the sky is clear over the next few days, make a point to check out the night sky for meteors. And while you are out there, give some consideration to the mystery meteors were for early cultures.