Incredible Photos of Geminid Meteor Shower Peaking Show Shooting Stars in the Sky

The Geminid meteor shower peaked earlier this week, and photographers were there to capture part of the display.

Though the shower technically lasts for several days, its most active period was from the night of December 13 to the early hours of December 14.

At that time, viewers in the northern hemisphere could expect to see between 30 and 40 meteors per hour according to NASA, and less for those in the southern hemisphere.

Viewing a meteor shower is not always easy. Good viewing conditions depend on a number of factors, including geographic location, light pollution, cloud conditions, and the fullness of the moon.

Generally, meteor showers are also quite faint. To see as many meteors as possible, NASA advises that people spend time letting their eyes get adjusted to the dark while observing a meteor shower, which can take around 30 minutes.

Likewise, cameras can get great shots of meteor showers if they're allowed to peer at the sky for long enough, taking in all the light they can via a long exposure shot. Some photographers posted their photos and even videos of the Geminid shower on social media.

For those who missed the peak, the shower is expected to carry on until December 17 when the last Geminids can be seen, NASA states, though rates may be much lower. The American Meteor Society (AMS) states the Geminids will last until December 24 this year.

The Geminid meteor shower is caused by a large space rock known as 3200 Phaethon, which releases debris as it orbits around the sun once every 1.4 years or so.

Sometimes the Earth passes into the path of these bits of space rock, which burn up in our atmosphere at around 78,000 miles per hour and produce streaks of light.

Scientists are still not entirely sure what 3200 Phaethon is. The space rock, 5.1 kilometers in diameter, is technically classified as an asteroid but also displays some features of a comet.

For one thing, it brightens up as it approaches the sun. Comets tend to do this because their icy surfaces start to evaporate and reflect sunlight. It also has a comet-like tail of debris behind it.

In any case, 3200 Phaethon is sometimes referred to as a rock comet—a sort of mixture between an asteroid and a comet, EarthSky states.

After the Geminids, the next meteor shower peak will be that of the Ursids on the night of December 21 to December 22, visible from the northern hemisphere only.

Rates are normally lower than with the Geminids; viewers might see between five and 10 Ursids per hour, according to AMS. Plus the moon will be almost full, adding to light pollution.

Telescope
A stock photo shows a telescope on a tripod looking at a dark sky. Meteor showers can sometimes be tricky to see. ClaudioVentrella/Getty