Stargazers in China will be in the ideal place to observe the last meteor shower of the year, the Geminids. Approximately two meteors will be visible every minute during the event, weather permitting, in the early morning hours of December 14.
The Geminid shower is known as the most reliable and the most satisfying of all the annual showers. Geminid meteoroids are far denser than the cometary dust flakes that supply most meteor showers so they burn up less quickly, and encounter the Earth at the relatively slow speed of 35 kilometers per second.
This means that the shower is filled with slow, bright, graceful meteors and bright fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively few objects of medium brightness.
This year the Geminid shower occurs close in time to the new moon, making it an optimum time to view the dramatic show, according to Professor Roberto Ragazzoni of Italy's National Institute of Astrophysics.
In general, any meteor shower is more clearly seen after midnight, when the viewer is on the side of the earth moving toward the shower. "Before midnight, it is like looking out the rear window of the car," says Ragazzoni.
Meteor showers usually occupy about half the sky, Ragazzoni indicates, but the meteors will appear to be streaming from a point called the radiant. In the Geminid shower, the radiant will appear in close proximity to the star Castor in the Gemini constellation.
The meteor shower's peak is expected to be at about 5:00 AM December 14. However, it is impossible to predict the time precisely as the components are too small to detect with telescopes or radar: there is likely to be activity from December 9 through 16.
(China.org.cn December 8, 2004)