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When you wish upon a .... The Geminid meteor shower, which appears to emanate from the constellation of the famous Gemini twins, peaks this weekend, with the best time to watch Sunday overnight into Monday. From 150-200 meteors per hour are possible.

Holiday Shooting Stars: Geminid Meteors Dazzle in Festival of Lights

ICTMN Staff
12/12/15

They emanate from the twin constellation Gemini, so it’s only fitting that the Geminid meteor shower should be double the fun of the year’s others.

“In the Northern Hemisphere, this meteor shower often rates as one of the best—if not the best—shower of the year on a dark, moonless night,” says Earthsky.org.

And that’s exactly what we have. This year, coming on a weekend and two days after a new moon, the shower affords viewers ample opportunity to observe in skies that aren’t flooded with light.

What they’ll see could top 150 meteors per hour, or even go as high as 200. That’s a lot of shooting stars to wish on.

The moon turns new on December 11, “guaranteeing us dark skies for this year’s Geminid meteor shower,” Earthsky.org says. “The meteors usually fly most abundantly after midnight. This year’s maximum output will probably be between midnight and dawn on Monday, December 14—or possibly between midnight and dawn on Tuesday, December 15.”

This means that the best time to watch is overnight Sunday December 13 into Monday December 14.

The Geminid meteor shower comes from something that NASA has dubbed a Rock Comet for its origin in, well, a rock that could be an asteroid but for its zany elliptical orbit around the sun.

RELATED: Video: NASA Takes Us Inside the 'Rock Comet' as Geminid Meteors Wow Skywatchers

“The Geminids appear to be related to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon,” says Space.com. “This very unusual asteroid has an orbit that's more like a comet—it comes closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.”

In fact it swoops in as close as half Mercury’s distance from the sun, Space.com says.

“This brings it within 13 million miles of the sun, and raises its surface temperature to a scorching 1,390 degrees Fahrenheit,” Space.com tells us. “It is thought to be a comet that has been stripped of its ices by its repeated visits close to the sun.”

“This helps explain why the Geminids are so bright,” say the folks at Slooh, the online astronomy community. “They’re little pieces of mostly rocky material which take longer to burn up as they fall into the atmosphere, whereas most meteor showers are caused by softer, icier debris from comets.”

They also blaze mostly white and yellow, but 10 percent of them can be red or blue as well, says Slooh, which will livecast the shower starting at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday December 13.

Those willing to brave the chill December temperatures and watch the show as it unfolds in the great outdoors are advised to be patient.

“Sometimes you must wait half an hour or more before seeing a meteor; then you may get a whole bunch of them in a row,” says Space.com. “A dark sky is essential; the moon will not be a problem this year, but any light pollution will reduce your chances of seeing meteors.”

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