Geminids 2018: NASA explains origin of dazzling meteors
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The Geminids meteor shower is due to reappear across the UK this week and bring with it a majestic display of shooting stars to light up the night sky. The shower returns every December and is famed for its bright and often multicoloured displays. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s shower and how you can watch it.
The Geminids meteor shower can be seen every December in the UK and this year’s edition is set to peak between Monday (December 13) night and the early morning of Tuesday (December 14).
Racing at speeds of up to 70km per second, meteors are pieces of debris that create streaks of light across the sky as they enter the earth’s atmosphere and begin to burn up.
Geminids are particularly popular for stargazers as they’re recognised for being very bright, fast and usually multicoloured.
On the whole, they appear white but some can range in colour – such as yellow and green or blue and red – due to the presence of traces of metals such as sodium and calcium.
In fact, these are the same elements that are used within fireworks to give them their colourful properties.
Though people may not be able to see all of them with the naked eye due to light pollution the Geminids shower can produce more than 100 meteors an hour at its peak.
The Geminids shower is also one of the only meteor displays that doesn’t owe its origins to a comet.
Instead, the source of the shooting stars belongs to a stream of debris left behind by the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon.
How can you watch it in the UK?
There’s no need to own a pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the shower as it can be viewed clearly with your own eyes.
However, anyone who does decide to watch is advised not to stare directly at the radiant – the celestial point in the sky from which the paths of meteors appear to originate – as this can limit the number of meteors that are visible.
Opting to look to the side in a dark area of the sky will give you a greater chance of seeing the shower.
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Unfortunately, the weather may not be on your side this week. On Monday evening the Met Office is forecasting thick cloud cover across large parts of England and Wales.
So, observers of the shower may have to be patient and pick an optimal point to view the display from.
Anyone who is planning to take it in is recommended to find a wide-open space that is free of any light pollution.
Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other hand should enjoy relatively clear skies.
Difference between a meteor, asteroid and other space rocks
A meteor is described by scientists as a flash of light in the atmosphere that is created when the debris is vaporised.
Asteroids are small rocky bodies that orbit the sun. Most of them in our solar system can be found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
In comparison, comets are frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system. They’re composed of rock, dust and ices. They can also range from a few to tens of miles wide.
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