shooting star

A shooting star—part of the Geminid meteor shower—lights up California’s night.
Photograph by Wally Pacholka, TWAN – via

The Geminid meteor shower is a very prolific annual cosmic fireworks show that peaks tonight. It’s actually increasing in intensity because astronomers believe that Earth is deeper every year into an ancient debris stream left behind by a mysterious three-mile-wide (five-kilometer-wide) asteroid-like object orbiting the inner solar system.

Most meteor showers are generated by melting icy comets approaching the sun that shed material. But scientists aren’t sure whether the Geminids’ parent object, called 3200 Phaethon, is an asteroid or a nearly dead comet.

It’s a New Moon tonight, so there will be real moonlight to ruin the view. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the shower will seem to originate in the constellation Gemini which is rising above the eastern horizon as I type this in Paradelle. But from 10pm to 5 am works with 2 am being the peak.

And for the bonus round, west of Gemini is the brilliant planet Jupiter (looking like a star to most people) and just before sunrise, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury appear above the southeastern horizon.

Look up!

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