Every year in December, the Geminids are the strongest stream of shooting stars that hit earth. The climax of the falling star is expected this year on December 14 at around 2 p.m. – and thus in the middle of the day. According to the Association for Star Friends, up to 150 meteors per hour could be observed during this period and thereafter in the dark and in good weather.
Dark spot of observation is important
This year, unfortunately, it is not possible to observe the Geminids meteor shower at its peak in Europe. But on the night before – from December 13th to 14th – and the night after – from December 14th to 15th – one can still hope for 30 to 60 glowing objects per hour in the night sky. These may include particularly bright objects. The most favorable observation time is on December 14th from sunset to moonrise, since the moonlight cannot disturb you then.
A dark observation site is particularly important because the Geminids dive into the earth's atmosphere very slowly for shooting star conditions and thus do not trail long traces of light behind them, but only flash briefly.
From about 2100 the Geminid show is over forever
Anyone who was unable to see the shooting stars because of a closed cloud cover will still have the opportunity to do so in the coming decades. Throughout the 21st century, the Geminids are said to be making regular visits to Earth.
Finally, around the year 2100, the cosmic cloud of dust from which shooting stars originate will no longer cross Earth's orbit. With that, the Geminid show will be over for good.
Source of the Geminids unclear for a long time
Shooting stars are usually tiny particles that have flaked off loosely structured comets. Only with the Geminids no "crumbling" comet could be found for the shooting stars. For more than 100 years, astronomers searched in vain for the source of the shooting stars.
Astronomers first saw the Geminids in December 1862. The shooting stars that suddenly appeared, which had never happened before at this time, became more numerous from year to year. Since the tracers were always seen in the constellation of Gemini, the Geminids were named after the Latin name for Gemini, which is Gemini.
In 1983, American astronomers finally noticed a chunk in space that was traveling on the same trajectory as the Geminids: an asteroid called Phaeton. However, this asteroid could not be the source of the crumbly Geminid snuff, because unlike comets, asteroids do not usually trail a dust tail behind them.
Asteroid dust tail through heated ice sheet
However, the asteroid in space comes so close to the sun every year and a half that its surface becomes several hundred degrees hot. Researchers at the Institute for Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center now assume that the rock crumbles into small grains and dust on its surface under this heat stress.
In addition, according to the researchers, the asteroid has an ancient layer of ice under its dusty and therefore insulating surface. This ice is supposed to turn into gas close to the sun, thereby breaking through the dust layer in batches and taking rock crumbs with it into space. This explains the tail of dust particles that can be observed at regular intervals at the point closest to the sun on the asteroid Phaeton.
The earth flies through this plume of dust once a year – always in mid-December. In doing so, it collects the dust particles that race into the earth's atmosphere at 35 kilometers per second and compress the air in front of it so much that it lights up brightly.