This is one of the most special annual phenomenons in space that you can view from Earth and this year the Geminid Meteor Shower in Washington D.C. is going to be more visible than has in a while!
What is the Geminid Meteor Shower?
The Geminid Meteor Shower is a cluster of debris that originates from an asteroid known as 3200 Phaeton, which is rather unique as most meteor showers are a result of comets rather than asteroids. The cluster of debris is something that the Earth travels through once a year around this time and it is named after the constellation Geminid because it appears that the meteors come from the same direction as the constellation.
What’s the difference between an asteroid and a comet?
An asteroid, quite simply, is a giant rock floating through space, it could be made up of a long list of materials or have different compositions, but it’s almost always something solid that can break apart when it impacts other objects in space, like planets, moons, or even other asteroids. However, a comet can be more accurately described as a snowball with something solid in its core; its solid nucleus is wrapped in layers of ice that rapidly burn up from solid to gas as it travels through space, creating a unique visual that you can sometimes see from Earth. The reason why some comets are repetitive is because they orbit the sun is varying distances, at some points being closer to the Sun when its “burning-up” is quite visible from Earth, and at other points further from the sun when it’s “dormant” and its ice layers regrow.
How to see the Geminid Meteor Shower in Washington D.C.?
Well, according to the American Meteor Society, there should be anywhere from 60 to 80 meteors visible per hour tonight, on Wednesday, December 13th. The reason why conditions are so ideal this year is because there is a new moon phase which will minimize the light pollution in the night sky, making the meteors even more visible. Of course, if you are in the city there will be some significant light pollution, so the best options for viewing the meteor shower will be to travel to one of the many nearby National Parks in the DMV area.
Important to note is that while the weather forecast for tonight will be clear, it’s also going to be rather cold and windy, so if you plan to stay outside for an extended period, be sure to be dressed for the occasion!