Geminid sky map

Geminid sky map

December's long and dark night skies — coupled with this week's waning moon — could make the annual Geminid meteor shower particularly impressive this year.

Past Geminid showers have displayed 100 to 200 meteors per hour during peak times, and the combination of a late moonrise should provide the best viewing on Wednesday night (Dec. 13). Cloudy night skies are expected Thursday through the weekend, making it less likely to witness a sustained light show.

Named for the constellation Gemini, this meteor shower will appear to radiate from a spot high above the horizon and streak across the sky. Not only will the meteors be visible high in the sky, unlike many meteor showers that are best seen just before sunrise, the Geminids should be visible from about 9 p.m. until about 5 a.m.

Meteors are specks of space debris —about the size of a grain of sand — from asteroids or comets that erupt in flame when they strike earth's atmosphere upon coming into our atmosphere. Most of these are about the size of a grain of sand and originate as debris from comets or asteroids.

To locate Gemini and the Geminids, find a place relatively free of light from street lamps, commercial buildings and traffic. Look for the three-stars-in-a-row that form the constellation Orion's belt, then shift your gaze a bit higher and to the right. There is no need for telescope or binoculars, just dress warmly and enjoy the light show.

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.