The Geminid meteor shower 2023: How to watch

When does the Geminid meteor shower peak?

The 2023 Geminid meteor shower peaks in the evening of Dec. 14, with meteors also visible on Dec. 13. The Geminids are expected to produce up to 120 meteors per hour at a dark site. The waxing crescent Moon won't interfere with dark skies, making this year's shower good for viewing.

What causes the Geminid meteor shower?

The Geminids are caused by debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. Phaethon's 524-day orbit carries it very close to the Sun, less than half the distance of Mercury's closest approach to the Sun.

Where can I watch the Geminid meteor shower?

Geminid meteors will appear to be coming from the constellation Gemini, which gives the shower its name. Meteors will streak out from this area in all directions.

The Geminids are one of the Northern Hemisphere’s best showers. They’re also visible from the Southern Hemisphere, just with fewer meteors. 

The best way to watch a meteor shower is from a dark sky site, so it helps to get away from city lights as much as you can.

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

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What is the Geminid meteor shower? Everything you need to know about the annual Geminid meteor shower.

What is a meteor? 

Meteors are also known as shooting stars, but they aren't actually stars at all. Meteors are streaks of light in the sky caused by dust and small 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!