When these meteoroids encounter Earth's atmosphere at tremendously high speeds - up to far more than 100,000 miles per hour - they burn up from the friction and produce the brief streaks of light we call meteors. The greatest numbers of meteors, though, will fall from midnight to 2 a.m. when the radiant point - the stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini - is highest in the sky.
A meteor shower is not just an increased number of meteors, however.
What if it's cloudy on the big night of the Geminids, Dec. 13-14?
Why is this year so favorable for the Geminids? But the climax of the shower this year is predicted to occur about 1 a.m. December 14 - which is only one hour before the radiant in Gemini is highest for observers in the eastern U.S. So next week, Wednesday evening to Thursday dawn, should provide the very best numbers.
Beginning on Thursday, Dec. 7, the Geminids are said to be one of the most reliable and prolific meteor showers, producing up to 120 to 160 meteors per hour during its peak from Dec. 13 - 14.
The Geminid meteor shower is distinctive insofar as it's not caused by a comet, but rather an asteroid with many properties of a comet.
You're more likely to see the shower if you live on the east coast of the U.S., 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. Meteors should be visible across the entire sky, though the best way to catch them is to look south toward the constellation. Within the light pollution of a fair-sized city on the big night, you might only see a maximum of 10 or 15 Geminids per hour. From 11 p.m.to 4 a.m. Geminid rates of 60 or more would be possible if skies are quite clear. Jupiter will also be out, just south of the waning crescent moon.