Geminid meteor shower chart for 2022. Image via Guy Ottewell.
Predicted peak is 13 UTC on December 14, 2022.
Radiant: Rises in mid-evening, highest around 2 a.m. See chart below.
Nearest moon phase: In 2022, last quarter moon falls on December 16. So it’s a bright waning gibbous moon that’ll rise in the midst of the Geminids’ peak in 2022.
When to watch: All is not lost! Notice the rising time of the Geminids’ radiant point. The constellation Gemini is up by mid-evening in December. And moonrise isn’t until later, shortly before midnight, on the evenings of both December 13 and 14. And the moon rises later on December 14, providing more time for meteor-watching. Both evenings – December 13 and 14 – are worth a try!
Overall duration of shower: November 19 to December 24.
Expected meteors at peak, under ideal conditions: Under a dark sky with no moon, when the radiant is highest around 2 a.m., you might catch 120 Geminid meteors per hour. Those conditions won’t exist in 2022. How many will you see in the evening hours? Hard to say, but you will might see a nice (albeit short) show.
Note: The bold, white, bright Geminids give us one of the Northern Hemisphere’s best showers. The Geminids are also visible, at lower rates, from the Southern Hemisphere. The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids.
Watch the Geminid meteor shower this week. The meteors radiate from near the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini, in the east on December evenings, highest around 2 a.m. local time (time on your clock for all parts of the globe). In 2022, a waning gibbous will wash out the meteors during the peak.
Geminid meteor shower parent comet
From the late, great Don Machholz (1952-2022), who discovered 12 comets …
An asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon is responsible for the Geminids meteor shower. This differs from most meteor showers which are caused by comets, not asteroids. What’s the difference between a comet and an asteroid?
A comet is defined as a dirty snowball, with a solid nucleus covered by a layer of ice which sublimates (turns from a solid to a gas) as the comet nears the sun. Comets are typically lightweight, with a density slightly heavier than water. They revolve around the sun in elongated orbits, going close to the sun, then going far from the sun. Seen through a telescope, a comet will show a coma, or head of the comet, as a nebulous patch of light around the nucleus, when it gets close to the sun. But when seen far from the sun, most comets appear star-like, because only the nucleus is observed.
An asteroid is a rock. Typically, an asteroid’s orbit is more circular than that of a comet. Through a telescope an asteroid appears star-like.
These definitions worked well until a few decades ago. Larger telescopes began discovering asteroids far from the sun, and some of these objects, as they approached the sun, grew comas and tails, requiring the change of designation from asteroid to comet. An odd object named Chiron, considered an asteroid when discovered in 1977, was reclassified as a comet in 1989 when it showed a coma. It orbits the sun every 50 years and travels from just inside the orbit of Saturn to the orbit of Uranus.
So, an object initially considered an asteroid can be reclassified as a comet. Can the opposite occur: a comet be reclassified as an asteroid? Yes, it can. It is possible that a comet can shut down when its volatile materials become trapped beneath the nucleus’ surface. This is known as a dormant comet. When the comet loses all of its volatile materials, it is known as an extinct comet. The asteroid 3200 Phaethon seems to be an example of either a dormant or an extinct comet.
3200 Phaethon discovered in 1983
3200 Phaethon was discovered on images taken by IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite) on October 11, 1983 by Simon Green and John Davies. Initially named 1983 TB, it was given an asteroid name: 3200 Phaethon in 1985. As the orbit was calculated, Fred Whipple announced that this asteroid has the same orbit as the Geminids meteor shower. This was very unusual, as never before had an asteroid been suggested as causing a meteor shower. It is still not known how material from the asteroid’s surface, or interior, is released into the meteoroid stream.
3200 Phaethon gets very close to the sun, half the distance as is the innermost planet, Mercury. Then it scoots out past the orbit of Mars. The meteor material intersects the earth’s orbit on its inbound leg, and the earth arrives at this location every mid-December, hence the Geminids meteor shower.
The Japanese spacecraft DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for Interplanetary Voyage with Phaethon Flyby and Dust Science) is expected to be launched in 2024 to visit the asteroid in 2028. One proposal from 2006 suggested crashing an object into 3200 Phaethon to produce an artificial meteor shower to better study the asteroid. DESTINY+, however, will not be hitting the asteroid.
But the particles from the asteroid will hit our atmosphere and you can see them this December.
An article dedicated specifically to this asteroid can be found here:
Radar images of near-Earth asteroid 3200 Phaethon generated by astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory on December 17, 2017. The 2017 encounter was the closest the asteroid will come to Earth until 2093. Image via NASA.
2022 Geminid meteor shower and the moon
The Geminid meteor shower – always a favorite among the annual meteor showers – is expected to peak in 2022 on December 14. The Geminids are a reliable shower for those who watch around 2 a.m. local time from a dark-sky location. We also often hear from those who see Geminid meteors in the late evening hours. But this year, a waxing gibbous moon will be above the horizon during peak time for viewing. One option is to try watching in moonlight on the nights of December 13 and 14.
You can try watching in moonlight. Geminid meteors tend to be bold, white and quick. The brightest ones will overcome the light of the moon. Astronomer Guy Ottewell agrees these meteors tend to be bright. He offered this insight on his blog:
The Geminids, deriving from an asteroid rather than a comet, must include rock-sized pieces, which as they burn up in the atmosphere are often bright and do not leave trails.
He also said:
Following approximately the asteroid’s orbit, they cross inward close over Earth’s orbit almost sideways – from only slightly to the front, and slightly to the north. They appear to come at us from near Castor in the constellation of the twins, and from this “radiant” point their paths streak to any part of the sky. The radiant is up for almost all of the long (northern) winter night, highest at 2 a.m.
How many meteors, when to look
The zenithal hourly rate for this shower is 120. But you probably won’t see that many. On a dark night, near the peak of the shower around 2 a.m. (for all time zones), you can often catch 50 or more meteors per hour. During an optimum night for the Geminids, it’s possible to see 150 meteors per hour. A last quarter moon on December 16 means that in 2022 the peak of the shower competes with a waning gibbous moon.
By the way, this shower favors Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, but it’s visible from the Southern Hemisphere, too. The curious rock comet called 3200 Phaethon is the Geminids’ parent body.
View on Flickr. | Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona captured this bright earthgrazer meteor on December 13, 2020. Thank you, Eliot!
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Kent and Carolyn Carlson captured this meteor over Moraine Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, on December 13, 2020. They wrote: “Geminid meteors!! Carolyn and I bushwhacked a half mile uphill through the snow after dark up to a small cliff that overlooks Moraine Park. We were rewarded by a most spectacular meteor show, mostly originating around or through the constellation Orion in the east. We only spent 2 hours at the site because of the blowing snow and gusty winds.” Thank you, Kent and Carolyn!
Geminid meteor shower radiant point
The Geminid meteor shower is best around 2 a.m. because its radiant point – the point in our sky from which the meteors seem to radiate – is highest in the sky at that time. As a general rule, the higher the constellation Gemini the Twins climbs into your sky, the more Geminid meteors you’re likely to see.
The Geminids’ radiant point nearly coincides with the bright star Castor in Gemini. That’s a chance alignment, of course, as Castor lies about 52 light-years away, while these meteors burn up in the upper atmosphere some 60 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface.
Castor is noticeably near another bright star, the golden star Pollux of Gemini. It’s fun to spot them, but you don’t need to find a meteor shower’s radiant point to see these meteors.
The meteors in annual showers appear in all parts of the sky. It’s even possible to have your back to the constellation Gemini and see a Geminid meteor fly by.
6 tips for meteor Geminid meteor watchers
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Kathie O’Donnell in Spearfish, South Dakota, United States, captured this meteor on December 14, 2021, and wrote: “1 a.m. to 4 a.m. observation of the Geminids near the McNenny State Fish Hatchery near the SD/WY border. This year the temps were in the 50’s (10°C) which we shouldn’t be having. Nasty winds whipped up to over 40 mph which actually (despite precautions of keeping tripod lower and using vehicle as a wind break) dumped the camera over. My newer camera with pricey lens and better tripod survived. As you can see, this meteor was fairly bright and low on the horizon. Lots of vibration stress on the tripods so pics are probably not as sharp as one would like. Happy to be out there again as we got ‘skunked’ by bad weather the last two years.” Thank you, Kathie!
1. The most important thing, if you’re serious about watching meteors, is a dark, open sky.
2. The peak time of night is around 2 a.m. for all parts of the globe. In 2022, a bright waning gibbous moon will rise in late evening and set the next morning, so visibility will not be the best. Visit Sunrise Sunset Calendars to find moonset times (be sure to check the moonset times box) for your specific location.
3. When you’re meteor-watching, it’s good to bring along a buddy. Then two of you can watch in different directions. When someone sees one, call out, “Meteor!” This technique will let you see more meteors than one person watching alone will see.
4. Be sure to give yourself at least an hour (or more) of observing time. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the dark.
5. Be aware that meteors often come in spurts, interspersed with lulls.
6. Special equipment? None needed. Maybe bring a sleeping bag to keep warm. A thermos with a warm drink, and a snack, is always welcome. Plan to sprawl back in a hammock, lawn chair, pile of hay or blanket on the ground. Lie back in comfort, and look upward. The meteors will appear in all parts of the sky.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Chirag Bachani in Marathon, Texas, captured this photo of the Geminid meteor shower on December 14, 2020. He wrote: “The Geminid meteor shower produced a spectacular show with over 100 meteors per hour at the peak around 2 am local time on December 14th. This image displays over 40 meteors captured throughout the night from a Bortle Class 1 dark sky in Marathon, Texas. Many of the meteors lasted over 2 seconds and were typically green and blue.” Thank you, Chirag!
Watch for earthgrazers in the evening hours
If the 2 a.m. observing time isn’t practical for you, and 2022’s waning gibbous moon during the shower’s peak has you discouraged, don’t give up! Sure, you won’t see as many Geminid meteors in early evening, when the constellation Gemini sits close to the eastern horizon and – in 2022 – when there’s a bright moon in the sky. But you might still take a look because the evening hours are the best time to try to catch an earthgrazer.
An earthgrazer is a slooow-moving, looong-lasting meteor that travels horizontally across the sky. Earthgrazers are rarely seen but prove to be especially memorable, if you should be lucky enough to catch one.
Painting of 1860 earthgrazer fireball by Frederic Edwin Church. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Bottom line: The 2022 Geminid meteor shower peaks December 14. There’s a bright moon up most of the night.
*Predicted peak times and dates for 2022 meteor showers are from the American Meteor Society. Note that meteor shower peak times can vary.