If you look towards the sky later tonight, you might catch some shooting stars: the peak of the Geminids meteor shower.
The phenomenon is expected to flash across the sky tomorrow night as well. While they’re slightly less well-known than the August Perseids partially due to the cold weather, the Geminids are one of the strongest meteor showers to arrive every December, according to Diana Hannikainen, observing editor at Sky & Telescope.
To catch this year’s show, head outside after dark, ideally after the moon sets at 10:30 p.m. local time (with dark skies, it will be easier to see the fainter, more frequent meteors). Allow your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness, and look up to take in as much of the sky as possible.
The streaks you’ll see are actually debris soaring behind the rocky object 3200 Phaethon, which circles the sun every 1.4 years. When the pieces hit the Earth’s atmosphere—at speeds around 22 miles per second—the debris burns up, leaving a fiery trail.
The radiant, or apparent source of the meteor shower, is near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini, Sky & Telescope reports. This point will be at its highest at 2 a.m.
Under perfect conditions, one should theoretically be able to see up to 100 meteors per hour at this time, NASA said. In reality, even those in rural areas will probably see one per minute. In suburban areas, where there’s likely more light pollution, observers should be able to spot roughly 30 to 40 meteors per hour.
And, unfortunately for the urbanites, city lights will likely drown out most of the Geminids.
If you can’t stay up until 2 a.m., Sky & Telescope reports the Earth will pass through the thickest part of 3200 Phaethon’s debris, with the most potential for meteors, around 7:30 a.m. eastern time on Friday. If that’s still too early, you should be able to catch a few meteors any time after dark, particularly after the moon sets.
If you’re trying to catch a glimpse of some faint meteors past peak, keep an eye out for Comet 46P/Wirtanen as well. The comet will pass very close to Earth around 8 a.m. EST this Sunday, according to Space.com and should be visible to the naked eye.