Outer space has fascinated mankind since its inception, providing myths, legends, religions, and eventually actual scientific explanations regarding the phenomena going on beyond our atmosphere. Such a phenomenon will be taking place tonight, so find out 5 facts NASA wants you to know about tonight’s Geminid meteor shower.
- The phenomenon will be visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres
- Geminids are pieces of debris from an extinct comet, called 3200 Phaethon
- Because of their intense brightness, people report the meteors as actually having colors
- The Geminids are so named due to the fact that they appear to radiate from the Gemini constellation
- The shower was weak when it was first discovered in the 19th century, but today it reaches rates of over 120 meteors per hour
The Geminid meteor shower is the strongest meteor shower of the year. It usually lasts for about half a month in December, and is generally visible all over the world, depending on the Sun’s position and the weather forecast.
Due to being pieces of an extinct comet, the meteoroids tend go deeper into the Earth’s atmosphere than most other meteor showers, offering us a beautiful light show of 1-2 seconds long arcs of light.
3200 Phaethon was long believed to actually be an asteroid, but scientists eventually figured out that the object generating the almost yearly light show is in fact a comet.
The comet passes near enough to Mercury every 1.4 years as to be temporarily caught in its orbit. Due to its proximity to the sun, the comet is bombarded with radiation and heat, boiling dust from the comet and hurling it into the Geminid stream.
This not only makes the meteor shower the most massive in our solar system, with its dust outweighing other meteor showers by a ratio of 5 to 500, but it also provides a much intensified light to the shower, causing it to be even more visible.
Due to this intensified light, people all over the world describe the meteors as appearing to be purple, blue, red, green or yellow, and because they travel slower than other meteors, they offer one of nature’s most entertaining shows.