Geminids meteor shower 2017: The best photos of last night’s Geminids meteor shower

The imminent Geminids meteor shower might be just the elevation our spirits need to see out what’s been a pretty turbulent year.

The shower peaked during the night of 13 to 14 December, during which stargazers saw a high number of visible shooting stars, with the event ongoing until Sunday 17 December. We’ve rounded up the best the internet has to offer thus far terms of stargazers’ coverage… 

This viewer’s front garden was ablaze with celestial matter… 

One lucky user managed to get his money shot just before his camera battery expired…

The Outer Hebrides certainly delivered the goods…

The US is tipped to have prime astronomical conditions to view the shower. If you live in the UK, with its unending proclivity for leaden skies, you may not be so lucky but don’t despair; you may still get a chance to see some ethereal pairings of the crescent moon with the planets Jupiter and Mars instead.

Meanwhile, Bill Cooke, in a news release for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office entitled “Heads Up, Earthlings!” confirms suspicions that tonight’s shower will be one of the most mesmerising yet. “With August’s Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year […] The thin, waning crescent moon won’t spoil the show,” he explains. 

If you weren’t excited enough already, this video from NASA 360 should do the trick…

Geminids meteor shower 2017: What is it?

What’s causing this coquettish display from the universe, you ask? Earth, at roughly the same point every year, passes through clusters of rocky particles emanating from various comet-asteroid hybrids.

Sounds treacherous, particularly when we learn these bad boys are travelling at speeds of up to 100,000 mph. However, when they interact with Earth’s atmosphere, intense friction makes them combust, releasing the brilliant shards of light we see as meteors. The meteors emanate from the Gemini constellation (hence the name), which can be explored in more depth using apps like Sky Guide for iOS and Sky Map for Android to learn more. 

The Geminid meteor shower is atypical insofar as it’s not caused by a comet, but rather an asteroid with many properties of a comet. Known as the 3200 Phaethon, the asteroid emits a stream of dusty, rocky particles (some researchers call it a “rock comet”), which go on to collide with Earth’s atmosphere, flaring up as meteor showers for us to enjoy. Phaethon is surprisingly small, only 3 miles across, and interestingly moves closer to the Sun than any known asteroid . In fact, it’s this interaction, which causes Phaethon’s surface to heat up to around 700 degrees celsius, which triggers its release of dusty debris into the atmosphere.  

Geminids meteor shower 2017: Where and how to watch?

NASA advises that the Geminids meteor shower will reach its peak between 7.30pm on 13 December to dawn on 14 December, with midnight to 4am revealing the biggest concentration of meteors. 

You’re more likely to see the shower if you live on the east coast of the US, given the moon is due to rise about 3.30am, with just a sliver (10% or so) illuminated, meaning its brilliance won’t outshine (quite literally) that of the shower. Earth’s encounter with the central section of the meteoroid swarm falls at around 1am on 14 December. Whatever your location though, Wednesday evening to Thursday dawn is where it’s at.

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Meanwhile, those elsewhere needn’t despair; the shower is expected to last 10 days, from Thursday, 7 December to Sunday, 17 December. Expectant viewers should find a suitable (read: dark) viewing station, and allow at least half an hour to let their eyes adjust, for prime viewing conditions. And yes, that means doing away with your smartphone. Sky and Telescope editor Alan McRobert advises taking your time: “Go out late in the evening, lie back in a reclining lawn chair, and gaze up into the stars. Be patient.”

Budding stargazers are advised not look solely towards Gemini, as the Geminids can appear anywhere in the sky. Your best bet is to try and fixate on the darkest area of the sky, as that’s where they’re more likley appear. 

If you can’t get away from your blazing city lights, or if you’re hit by bad weather you can watch the Geminids metoer shower via NASA’s live stream of the display, which will commence at sunset from its Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. A rival show will be put on by the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, which will broadcast the shower through its remotely controlled robotic telescope.

Geminids meteor shower 2017: Expectations

How many of these shooting stars can you expect to see?

Reports suggest the shower is intensifying every year, with as many as 120-160 meteors per hour lighting up the skies under optimal conditions. That being said, you’ll have to temper your expectations according to where you live; the light pollution in cities can impede visibility considerably, with numbers dwindling to around 10-15 per hour.

A more moderate estimation comes from Sky & Telescope Magazine, which estimates that you’ll be able to see a meteor every minute or two on average, provided you’re viewing under optimal conditions, namely a dark and clear sky. 

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