Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight

HOUSTON - The Geminid meteor shower will be on display tonight through dawn Friday morning. 

The Geminids are one of the more reliable meteor showers and that's good news for us.  We can expect to see dozens of meteors per hour, and the new Moon will not interfere with the view.  It will be chilly tonight, in the 50s, so make sure you are warm if you want to see the show.  Clouds will build throughout the night limiting the view if they get thick enough.   

The Geminids begin as tiny specks of dust that hit Earth's atmosphere at 78,000 mph, vaporizing from friction with the air and leaving behind the streaks of light we call meteors. Geminid meteors appear to fall from the star Castor, one of the "heads" of the constellation Gemini, the twins.  This spot, called the radiant, remains visible all night and passes nearly overhead around 2 a.m. local time. Although the meteors seem to originate in Gemini, they can appear anywhere in the sky and actually leave longer trails the farther they are from the radiant.

The Geminid shower was the first to be linked to an asteroid. Most meteor showers occur when Earth crosses the orbit of a comet. Though the Geminid shower was discovered in the 1860s, it was in 1983 that astronomers identified Phaethon as the shower's source.

For your best view of the Geminid meteors, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites. Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.

The George Observatory at the Houston Museum of Natural Science will be open until 1 a.m. Friday for people to watch the meteor shower. You can also ask NASA experts about the meteor shower during a live chat from 10 p.m. Thursday until 2 a.m. Friday.

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