Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight
Best viewing between moonset and dawn
The fireball-rich Geminid meteor shower, the most intense celestial show of its kind, peaks tonight.
"This is actually probably the best meteor shower of the year," Scott Young, an astronomer with the Manitoba Museum Planetarium, told CBC Radio.
But it's not as well known as summer meteor showers such as the Perseids "because of course it happens in the dead of winter and so it's not quite as comfortable."
Young added that good views of the meteor shower are expected right across Canada.
According to NASA, more than 100 meteors per hour stream from the constellation Gemini during the meteor shower's peak, which happens this year on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, this year the number of visible meteors is expected to be reduced by half to two-thirds due to the glare of an almost-full moon, NASA predicts.
The moon is expected to set around 4 a.m., and Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, told NASA Science News he recommends watching the meteor shower during the window of dark skies between moonset and dawn.
But Young said skywatchers who don't want to stay up that late or get up that early, and even people in the city, could still get a decent show from the Geminids.
'Bright and very slow moving'
"They're usually very bright and very slow moving meteors, so they usually cut through some of that glare," he said.
In fact, the Geminids are known for producing lots of fireballs, meteors brighter than the planet Venus. According to Spaceweather.com, as of Friday morning, NASA's network of 12 U.S. cameras specially designed to record such events had 39 fireballs so far this week.
The Geminid meteor shower takes place each year when the Earth passes through the debris from 3200 Phaethon, a strange object that NASA has named a "rock comet."
Unlike most comets that generate meteor showers, Phaethon is a rocky asteroid, not a ball of ice, NASA observations show.
Astronomer Dave Jewitt at the University of California LosAngeles, whose team has been studying 3200 Phaethon, has proposed that meteors are generated when heat from the sun causes dusty debris to break off from its surface.