The Geminid meteor shower is one of the most prolific of the big, annual meteor showers, and also one of the strangest. When viewing conditions are ideal, it is possible to see between 100 and 140 meteors per hour. However, this year the Geminid peak coincided with a nearly-full moon. Because the light of the moon will drowned out some of the dimmer meteors, sky watchers saw between 40 to 60 meteors Friday night.
By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times
The Geminid shower occurs each year as the Earth passes through a stream of debris that appears to be left in the wake of a rocky, asteroid-like body called Phaeton 3200. This makes the Geminid meteor shower unusual. Most meteor showers are caused by debris left in the wake of comets.
Scientists do not fully understand how Phaeton 3200 caused all that debris in its orbit. It doesn’t have a tail, and it doesn’t seem to be shedding much dust and rock as it moves through space.
“The Geminids are my favorite because they defy explanation,” said Bill Cooke, who heads up NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, in a statement. “Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids are by far the most massive. When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500.”
The bits of dust and rock hit Earth at about 22 miles per hour and burn up in our planet’s atmosphere, causing the streaks you see in the night sky.
We may not understand it, but we can still enjoy it.