What exactly are the Geminids?
In contrast to most meteor showers, which are born from comets, the Geminid meteor shower is unique in that it is born from an asteroid. In particular, the Geminids are based on material ejected from the approaching Sun by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. The meteor shower is called the “Geminids” because it looks like it’s coming straight out of the northern constellation Gemini.
When exactly is the Geminids’ peak?
The Geminid meteor shower is a wonderful astronomical phenomenon to witness over the winter holidays since it usually peaks in the middle of December. In recent years, the 13th and 14th of December have been the most popular Geminid nights. Under ideal circumstances, the shower can emit as many as 120 meteors per hour during this time.
The precise mechanism by which the Geminid meteor shower is triggered by an unusual asteroid circling the inner solar system has long perplexed scientists. Nonetheless, Finnish scientists say it’s as unusual as a meteorite that has been discovered on Earth just six times.
When will Geminids be at their most visible?
Upcoming week marks the climax of the Geminid meteor shower, which is considered the most spectacular of the year in the northern hemisphere. On the night of Wednesday, December 13 through Thursday, December 14, there will be a New Moon, resulting in gloomy skies perfect for witnessing “shooting stars.” Up to 150 have been predicted to fall at this time. The Geminids, which can be seen as vivid streaks of white, yellow, and green, are said by the American Meteor Society to be a solid bet for early evening meteor viewing.
Masses of “Shooting Star”
One common explanation for shooting star swarms, such as the Geminids, is that comets warm up as they round the sun through the inner solar system. Comets, which are composed of ice and rock, undergo a minor melting process as they approach the sun. As a result, they may release dust and debris that can disrupt Earth’s orbit. What we perceive as “shooting stars” in the sky are actually photons of light released by these meteoroids when they heat up as they impact with Earth’s atmosphere.
Caused by an Asteroids
As far as anyone can tell, the asteroid Phaethon 3200 is the mysterious culprit behind the unusual Geminids. Experts have been trying to figure it out for quite some time; its diameter is around 3.6 miles (5 km). Although no major meteor shower has ever been named after an asteroid—the Geminids—Phaethon 3200 is indeed comet-like in certain respects. At the asteroid’s closest approach to the sun, for instance, a comet-like tail can be seen for a few days.
The Use of Infrared Lighting
Despite initial speculation that it is a fragment of a comet, Finnish scientists have now nearly proven that Phaethon 3200 is an asteroid. University of Helsinki researchers reanalyzed images of Phaethon 3200 detected by NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, the infrared predecessor to the James Web Space Telescope, and matched the results to infrared data on meteorites investigated in labs. A meteorite is an asteroid that has fallen to Earth.
Published in November by Nature Astronomy, the findings demonstrate that Phaethon 3200 is similar to a rare meteorite type known as a CY carbonaceous chondrite. Not only are there just six known examples of this meteorite type, but it is also the only one known to breakdown when heated.
Near the sun, Phaethon 3200’s surface temperature reaches 800°C, making it similar to CY carbonaceous chondrite meteorites, which release carbon dioxide, water vapour, and sulphide sulphur gas.
Comet Departure Track
Researchers also discovered that asteroids leak gas when they approach the sun during their closest approach. Simultaneously, the asteroid’s surface is swept clean of tiny dust particles by the pressure generated by carbon dioxide and water vaporising.
Next, the meteor shower known as the Geminids and its comet-like tail will begin.
Lead author Eric MacLennan, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, stated in a press release, “Sodium emission can explain the weak tail we observe near the Sun, and thermal decomposition can explain how dust and gravel are released from Phaethon.”
Based on earlier studies this year, our analysis confirms that Phaethon’s tail is composed of sodium and not dust.
Directly Under the Sun
Phaethon 3200 encounters the sun quite often. Phaethon 3200 is a “Apollo” asteroid because it speeds around the sun every 14 months, never straying too far from either the sun or Earth, in contrast to many comets that produce meteor showers, which have orbits that last hundreds of years.
You shouldn’t miss the cosmic wonder that is the Geminid meteor shower. No matter how much or how little experience you have with astronomy, you should mark your calendar for the peak nights, dress warmly, go to a dark place, and be ready to be enchanted by nature’s own fireworks display. Stargazing with the Geminids is the ideal way to ring in the new year since they bring to mind the awe-inspiring wonders of the night sky.