By Ryan Montes
If you’re an amateur astronomer and stargazer like I am, you’re in for a treat. Next weekend, if the weather permits, the Geminid meteor shower that takes place every December will be occurring. The dates for the shower are December 13th – 14th. The Geminids radiate from the constellation Gemini the Twins, a winter constellation that sits just to the left of the mighty and recognizable Orion the Hunter. Despite the moon being a con for the shower, you’ll be able to see the brightest meteors streak across the sky, especially if you travel to a darker and remote location. The meteors themselves derive from asteroid 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid which orbits the Sun, has an orbital period of 524 days and is travelling at an orbital speed of 45,000 miles per hour.
The best time to view the Geminids is after midnight, which the same viewing time applies to any well-known meteor shower during the year. The reason observers can see numerous meteors after midnight is simply due to the Earth picking up meteors as it’s moving in its orbit at that particular time. However, just because you see meteors during a meteor shower doesn’t mean you won’t see them any other time of night throughout the year. These are known as sporadic meteors, meaning that you may catch one if you’re looking at the night sky or even if you’re simply driving on an open road on any given night.
Back to the Geminids, they have interesting history and facts. Discovered in 1862, they have entertained many stargazers this time of year for 157 years. It is also the most recently discovered meteor shower aside from the Leonids (902 AD) that occur every November and the Perseids (36 AD) that occur every August. The Geminids are one of the only meteor showers, aside from the Quadrantids that occur next January (every January to be specific) to not derive from a comet. What’s even more impressive is the speed and miles per second each Geminid travels. They travel at a medium speed of 22 miles a second. Stop and think about that. 22 miles would be from San Elizario to a bit past Sunland Park. Imagine traveling that distance in ONE second. Mind blowing, right? That distance is equivalent to a ridiculous speed of 79,000 miles per hour. Meteors simply know how to defy physics, period.
With all of this being said, the Geminids are one of the most active and consistent showers to date. I have always been satisfied nearly every year when I view them from my front yard, especially with my father. Back in 2015, I managed to see 30 or more Geminids by myself within a two hour span. I hope everyone can witness seeing that many Geminids or even more this coming weekend and in years to come. Good luck San Eli!