One of the best meteor showers of the year peaks this week, and if conditions are clear, experts say skywatchers could be treated to around 120 shooting stars per hour.
The annual Geminids meteor shower has been active since late November, and the shooting stars will ramp up to their peak Wednesday night into early Thursday.
The Geminids are considered to be one of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year, according to NASA. Under ideal conditions — clear weather and away from light pollution — stargazers could see more than one meteor each minute streak across the night sky.
This year, there will be minimal moonlight to interfere with the colorful sky show, NASA said.
Geminids are known to be bright and fast meteors, often appearing yellowish or white in hue, though they can also be green, red and even blue.
“Most meteors appear to be colorless or white, however the Geminids appear with a greenish hue. They’re pretty meteors!” Bill Cooke, lead for the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a blog post earlier this month.
The shooting stars can be seen anywhere in the world and are best viewed at night and in the early hours before dawn. The meteors will appear to stream from the constellation Gemini, which will rise in the northeastern sky.
According to NASA, it’s best to view the Geminids by sitting back or lying down with your feet facing south. The best vantage point is one away from city lights and other forms of light pollution, in a spot that allows you to see as much of the sky as possible.
It’s also best to allow your eyes around 30 minutes to adjust to the dark. Meteors will start to be visible around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. local time, but skywatchers who head out even later — between midnight and 2 a.m. — may be treated to a more impressive sky show. For people in the Northern Hemisphere, this will likely mean bundling up and preparing for chilly winter conditions.
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes through big clouds of debris left behind by comets or asteroids. As these particles hit the planet’s atmosphere, they vaporize and appear as fast-moving streaks of light across the sky.
The Geminids come from leftover debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, which takes 524 days to circle the sun. The small space rock, which measures around 3.2 miles across, was first discovered in 1983.
Though the Geminids peak this week, the meteor shower will remain active until Dec. 24, according to NASA.