Sometimes the universe conspires in our favor. The hackneyed self-help manual belief is going to come true this weekend, without the need for autosuggestion. The nights of Saturday and Sunday (December 12 and 13) will be the best time to enjoy the Geminids, considered by many to be the most attractive meteor shower of the year due to its high activity rate (more than 100 meteors per hour in the last decade) and its slow flashes that are easy to “catch”. But it is also that this year the celestial show will coincide with New Moon, which will greatly facilitate your observation. With our natural satellite gone, the show is assured. Now we just need the weather to accompany us and a curtain of clouds is not thrown over us.
The Geminids, first observed in 1862, are active from December 4-17. The maximum will occur around two in the morning on Monday, December 14, but the nights of this weekend will be the best times to keep track of them. The radiant of the meteors, the place from which they seem to be born, is located in the constellation of Gemini (the Twins), near the well-known constellation of Orion.
From the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC), they advise fixing your gaze on an area of the sky and keeping it, at least, for a few minutes to be able to “detect” a Geminid. Likewise, they recommend locating ourselves in a dark place, free from light pollution produced by cities, with clear horizons. There one can lie on the ground, well equipped with warm clothes, and “be patient.”
Total solar eclipse
The Geminids can be seen from both hemispheres. From the northern hemisphere the activity will be greater -because the radiant will be higher above the horizon-, but the southern skies will also give away a large number of meteors. In addition, on Monday, observers located in a narrow strip of Chile and Argentina will have a second reason to look up: for approximately two minutes, they will be able to contemplate a total solar eclipse.
«Since 2012 we have been following the Geminids from the Teide Observatory on time and they have always given us a great show. This year, without the Moon, no one should miss the rain ”, says Miquel Serra-Ricart (IAC). «We will have to wait until midnight to witness the moment of maximum activity. The Geminids, unlike the Perseids, are slow meteors and therefore easier to ‘hunt’ them. Despite the cold, we must always be prepared to observe the Geminids, I assure you that they will not disappoint you, ”he says.
As explained by the IAC, the so-called “shooting stars” are actually small dust particles of different sizes (between fractions of millimeters to centimeters in diameter) that comets generally leave along their orbits around the Sun. The resulting particles (meteoroids) are traversed each year by the Earth. During this encounter, the meteoroids heat up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, creating the well-known light streaks or “shooting stars” that are scientifically called meteors. Those larger and surviving to atmospheric friction could impact the Earth’s surface becoming meteorites.
Phaethon the destroyer
Normally, meteor showers are left behind by comets, but the Geminids are attributed to the asteroid (3200) Phaethon, which is a mystery to astronomers. The team led by Dave Jewitt of the University of California Los Angeles noticed in 2010 that Phaethon was experiencing an increase in intensity in its brightness. It was something new that was dubbed a “rocky comet,” and it looked like a hybrid between an asteroid and a comet. It is an asteroid that gets so close to the Sun – every 1.4 years, similar to how a comet would – that the heat emitted by our star “burns” the dust residues that cover the rocky surface and forms a kind of ‘gravel tail’.
Phaethon, 4 or 5 km in diameter, is a total destroyer. If it collided with the Earth, it would produce a global catastrophe that would destroy species, probably including ours “, explains Javier Licandro, from the IAC. “Still, Phaethon is a minor risk on the list of potentially dangerous bodies,” he adds. However, we have to control it because the orbits of these small asteroids that pass so close to the Earth are affected by many effects that can lead to a collision orbit in the future. Let’s hope the universe doesn’t conspire against us that way.