It is actually not a “star” but a meteor that is barreling through the atmosphere at more than 22 miles per second. Tonight is the first night of the Geminids, but don’t expect too much action until the peak nights of December 13th and 14th.
With a full moon on December 17th the sky will be brightly lit for the Geminids. These are not the best conditions for viewing, so find a spot far away from city lights to get the best view. Many scientists agree that the Geminids are one of the best meteor showers of the year for viewing. The meteors tend to be from larger particles causing bright fireballs to fly across the sky.
The Geminids are also a little different because they come from an asteroid instead of a comet. The asteroid, called 3200 Phaethon, was discovered to be the source of this meteor shower in 1983 by astronomer Fred Whipple. Although meteor showers are named for the constellation that they appear closest to in the sky, you will not need to reference a sky map to find a Gemini; these meteors are known to be seen all across the sky.
If you want to get ready to view this meteor shower over the coming days here are a few fun activities to learn more about heat and friction.
- Put your hands together and lightly rub them back and forth for a minute. Do you feel them getting warm? Then press them together with more force, and rub them back and forth for a minute? Is there are change, did you feel more heat? Did your hands warm up faster?
- Meteors are compressing the air ahead of them into a smaller space as they fly through the air at high rates of speed. Use a bicycle pump to push air through the small hole. Does the narrow tip change temperature?