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Up to 120 meteors an hour will blaze across the sky on Thursday night, when the Geminid meteor shower peaks.
The annual shower, which is already underway, is expected to be the best one of 2012. It’s among the strongest showers every year, but this year its peak coincides with a new moon, which means there will be no moonlight to wash out fainter meteors. No other meteor shower has shared such favorable conditions this year – and none will next year either.
So here’s what you need to know to catch these falling stars:
- Best dates: The Geminids peak on the night of Dec. 13 into Dec. 14, which means the greatest number of meteors will occur on Thursday night. The second-best option is tonight (Dec. 12 into 13), when the American Meteor Society says meteoric activity will be almost as good.
- Best times: Regardless of which night you look up, the best time to do so is around 2 a.m. local time, when the meteor shower’s radiant (the part of the sky from which the meteors will appear to radiate) will be overhead. Meteors will occur throughout the night, though, and the AMS predicts great viewing between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time, because the radiant will be halfway up the sky by around 10.
- How to prepare: Light pollution, clouds, and lack of a little preparation can also spoil a meteor shower, so check out 5 Steps to Get the Most out of Your Next Meteor Shower before you head out.
- For more details: Authoritative yet written in plain English, the AMS’s Viewing the Geminid Meteor Shower in 2012 is the best article I’ve read about this shower. For a more technical summary, try the International Meteor Organization’s Meteor Shower Calendar 2012.
If you can’t get outside Thursday night, get online. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will live-stream the shower and host a live-chat with meteor experts at NASA.gov/connect/chat/Geminids2012.html.