Geminid meteor shower 2021: how to watch

Highlights

  • The 2021 Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of Dec. 13 and the morning of Dec. 14. You may also see meteors a few days before and after the peak.
  • To watch, go to the darkest place you can, let your eyes adjust, and look overhead — but avoid staring directly at the Moon. We recommend timeanddate.com to help you find ideal times and viewing directions for your location.
  • The annual Geminid meteor shower is caused by debris from asteroid Phaethon.

The 2021 Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night between Dec. 13 and 14. The Geminids are usually one of the best meteors shower of the year, capable of producing 150 or more meteors per hour at a dark site. The meteors are often bright and colorful. The Moon will be 78% full and up for a large portion of the night, which could hamper viewing. We recommend timeanddate.com to help you find ideal times and viewing directions for your location.

The Geminids are caused by debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Phaethon's 524-day orbit carries it closer to the Sun than any other asteroid: roughly 21 million kilometers, less than half the distance of Mercury's closest approach to the Sun.

Asteroid 3200 Phaethon
Asteroid 3200 Phaethon Asteroid Phaethon, seen here in radar images from the Arecibo Observatory radar telescope, is the litterbug responsible for the annual Geminid meteor shower.Image: Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF

What is a meteor? 

Meteors are streaks of light in the sky caused by dust and sand-sized rocks burning up as they hit  Earth's upper atmosphere at very high speeds — tens of kilometers per second.

These small particles create bright streaks of light you can see from the ground at night. In general, the bigger the piece of space dust, the brighter the meteor. 

Space is full of dust, so on a typical night from a dark location, you might see up to 10 meteors per hour — no shower required!

What is a meteor shower?

Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through debris shed by a comet or asteroid. They reoccur at about the same time every year, when Earth comes around in its orbit and passes through the debris again.

Two of the best meteor showers of the year are the Perseids, which peak in mid-August, and the Geminids, which peak in mid-December. The Perseids often get more media attention because they occur during the northern hemisphere summer. However, the Geminids typically produce more meteors.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation that contains the radiant of the shower. The radiant is where the meteors appear to emanate from — if you draw a line back along the meteors, all of the lines will meet at the same point. This is an effect of the Earth speeding through the comet debris, meaning when you watch a meteor shower, you're seeing direct evidence of our planet orbiting the Sun!

How to watch a meteor shower

All you need to watch a meteor shower is your eyes, patience, and a mostly cloud-free night. Go out, get comfortable, and stare at the sky. Typically the best time to see a meteor shower is between midnight and pre-dawn, because that's when you are on the leading side of the Earth, watching the comet debris come at you like rain hitting a car windshield.

You don’t have to stare in the direction of the radiant; in fact, meteors farther away from it will appear longer. It is often said that an ideal place to look is 45 degrees away from the radiant, but the most important factor is getting to a dark location away from city lights, letting your eyes adjust for several minutes, and looking at the darkest patch of sky you can. 

Go out, look up at the night sky and have fun!