If the weather is clear Wednesday night next week, our skies are likely to fill with the greatest number of visible shooting stars we've had in quite a few years. However, when they interact with Earth's atmosphere, intense friction makes them combust, releasing the brilliant shards of light we see as meteors.
To find the Geminids in the sky, look for the constellation Gemini. This year should offer a wonderful meteor show. Earth's encounter with the central section of the meteoroid swarm falls at around 1am on 14 December. Gemini is now rising about sunset and is already high by midevening, so, unlike any other major meteor shower, the Geminids can be seen in good numbers by as early as 9 or 10 p.m.
In some years, the moon is at a large phase all or most of the night and its bright light washes out our view of most of the meteors. The Geminids produce visible meteors in the night sky from about December 4 to December 16, though the peak of the shower, with as many as 120 meteors visible per hour, is during the night of December 13 and early morning of December 14.
The imminent Geminids meteor shower might be just the elevation our spirits need to see out what's been a pretty turbulent year.
How many meteors will you see?
You're more likely to see the shower if you live on the east coast of the USA, given the moon is due to rise about 3.30am, with just a sliver (10% or so) illuminated, meaning its brilliance won't outshine (quite literally) that of the shower.
The a year ago that there were similarly favorable conditions for the Geminids I saw 68 of them in my best hour, along with about 14 meteors from other directions. Jupiter will also be out, just south of the waning crescent moon.