The Universe’s Spectacular Light Show

Many people enjoy taking in decorative holiday light displays, but did you know the skies are offering an out of this world display? The Geminid Meteor Shower is now visible in Maryland! Read on to find where and how to spot this annual light show.

The constellation Gemini can be located to the northeast of Orion, in between the Taurus and Cancer constellations. The constellation a meteor shower is named after is only a point of reference for visibility and does not denote the origin of a celestial event. Though Orion and his famous “belt” are a common point of reference for stargazing, apps such as Google’s Sky Map can help an excited viewer locate constellations with a smartphone. We recommend this app because developers note that this app does not share sensitive data, like a user’s location, with third parties, and all data is encrypted for security.

The Geminid Meteor Shower began on November 19, 2022 and will reach its peak visibility for Maryland residents on December 14, 2022. Experts say the three best nights for viewing will be December 13, 14, and 15. The best times for viewing the meteor event are between midnight and 4:00 a.m.

The Geminids, according to NASA, are special because they can be attributed to 3200 Phaethon, which is a rock type celestial body that behaves like a comet. When the Geminids first became visible in the 1800s, viewers could expect to see 10-20 meteors per hour. Now, approximately 120 meteors are visible during the shower’s peak. The Geminids are touted as one of the most visible meteor showers for viewers each year, as the Geminids are easily visible to the naked eye. Astronomers note that it may be helpful to bundle up and lay flat on your back, and it may take about 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the night sky.

Most meteors come from leftover pieces of comet activity. When an asteroid crashes into a celestial object, the debris is illuminated by the sun. This makes the Geminid meteors appear to “light up” many different colors as the Earth passes by debris that enters our planet’s atmosphere. The Geminids are special because they were formed from bits of an asteroid-like object, not a comet. Since 3200 Phaethon orbits the sun just like a comet, scientists think it may belong to a new theoretical group of celestial bodies called rock comets. This hypothesis is a classification for phenomena that display characteristics of both comets and asteroids.

Rich folklore surrounds meteor activity. Some cultures believe a meteor represents the spirit of a loved one that has passed away. Others believed a meteor was a harbinger of catastrophe or doom. In fact, it is believed that the tradition of wishing upon a shooting star was inspired by visible meteors. Though modern science has been able to explain the physical existence of meteor showers, many people still believe there is a spiritual connection to viewing such celestial events. In any case, Maryland residents won’t want to miss this annual light show! Please feel free to share any photos or videos or videos of the Geminid meteor shower you may capture on our Facebook page! Happy sky watching, Hub City!

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