The Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight. The light show should be lively for folks watching from Florida gulf beaches, but the annual meteor shower vexes the world's top astronomers.
Why? The Geminids pose a mystery, because scientists are not sure what causes the yearly flurry of shooting stars. It is not a comet. Maybe the debris is from an asteroid, some researchers believe. Or, it is from a newly discovered object called a "rock comet," with comet-like tails of gravelly debris that light up the sky. No one knows for sure.
Whatever causes the meteor shower, it is quite a show for Earthlings.
Now's your chance to catch a shooting star! Well, not quite, but Earthsky.org advises viewers to watch the Geminids starting at 9 or 10 p.m. on Thursday. The peak viewing time is overnight on Thursday, Dec. 13, into Friday morning. If you are willing to stay up late – or get up early – you're in for a treat.
The peak will likely be between 1 to 3 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 14. That’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky, as seen around the world. Go out, look up and savor the mystery, NASA scientists urge.
Want to read more about meteor showers?
Tips for watching from Earthsky.org:
You can comfortably watch meteors from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: a sandy beach, your back yard or even the hood of your car.
Consider a blanket or reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing along the pathway of the Milky Way.
So, if you care to join thousands across the nation in viewing the shower, park yourself at a good viewing spot.
Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain notoriously unpredictable.
Your best bet is to go outside at the suggested time — and hope.