UNA Pressroom

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks This Week

Dec. 13, 2023

Michelle R. Eubanks , UNA, at meubanks@una.edu, 256.765.4392

FLORENCE, AL – Sky watchers will be in for a bit of a treat the early weeks of December as the Geminid meteors will peak on the night of December 14 and 15. This year’s Geminids will peak during a waxing crescent moon, so the moon will not be a factor in diminishing the number of meteors that may be seen, making for almost perfect conditions if weather cooperates. 

“Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which they appear to emanate,” said Dr. Mel Blake, Planetarium Director and Associate Professor of Physics. “If you trace back the path of the meteors in a meteor shower, they all point back to a certain spot on the sky. The constellation where the spot is gives the meteor shower its name. A meteor is just a dust particle burning up in the atmosphere. They all appear to come from the same direction due to an optical illusion similar to the way railroad tracks that are running next to one another appear to meet in the distance. In the case of the Geminids, the meteors appear to be coming from the constellation Gemini, the Twins, near the two bright stars Castor and Pollux at the head of the Twins.”

The Geminid meteors result when the Earth passes through the debris of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon that may have been struck by another object. This is unusual since most meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris of a comet. The Geminids were first noticed in 1862 and seem to be increasing in number each year. The peak of the shower lasts only a few days. The particles themselves have had orbital studies performed, confirming their unusual origin from an asteroid rather than a comet. Earth and Jupiter seem to be slowly modifying the particle’s orbits. The parent object was discovered using the Infrared Astronomical Survey (IRAS) and is named 3200 Phaethon. Some astronomers speculate that it is not an asteroid at all, but an extinct comet. Likely the asteroid was struck by another object ejecting debris into space, producing the meteors. 

From a dark location, an observer can normally see about two or three random meteors per hour; predictions for the Geminids this year suggest up to 120 meteors per hour, around 2 a.m. on Dec 15. One advantage of the Geminid meteors is that the constellation Gemini is visible from sunset to sunrise for northern observers and so the meteors can be watched all night. Keep an eye on the sky for meteors December 6 through to the 18.

About The University of North Alabama

The University of North Alabama is an accredited, comprehensive regional state university offering credential, certificate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs in the colleges of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering; Business and Technology; Education and Human Sciences; and the Anderson College of Nursing and Health Professions. The first-choice University for more than 10,000 on-campus and online students, UNA is on a bucolic campus in Florence, Alabama, part of the historic and vibrant Shoals region. Lions Athletics, a renowned collegiate athletics program with seven (7) Division II National Championships, is now a proud member of the NCAA Division I’s ASUN Conference. The University of North Alabama is an equal opportunity institution and does not discriminate in the admission policy on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability, age, or national origin. For more: www.una.edu and www.una.edu/unaworks/