It’s fast approaching: the meteor shower of the year, when you can see shooting stars streak across the night sky burning up as they enter earth’s atmosphere. That’s right: it’s almost time for the peak of the 2021 Geminids meteor shower!
The Geminids meteor shower is one of the most active meteor showers of the year. Happening in the heart of winter in the northern hemisphere, the Geminids meteor shower is not as popular as other meteor showers which occur in the warm weather months (like the Perseids). However, if you’re willing to bundle up and brave the cold, you’re in for a real treat: a new moon combines with a night of intense meteoric activity this year!
If you have your heart set on seeing this year’s Geminids meteor shower, read on for everything you need to know to see Geminids meteors in 2021.
Featured image credit: Rocky Raybell via Flickr
This post was originally published in December 2020, and was updated in November 2021.
When to See the Geminids
Like most meteor showers, there are two important sets of dates to keep in mind when you try to see the Geminids:
- The Geminids meteor shower occurs from December 4 to 17 each year; during this time, there is a varying amount of meteoric activity that you can see on any given night from the radiant point near the constellation Gemini.
- The Geminids meteor shower will peak in the morning hours of Decemer 14th in 2021. The best opportunity for the most meteoric activity is after sunset on December 13th until sunrise the next morning.
When most people ask “when can you see the Geminids,” they’re inquiring about the peak day(s) of the meteor shower – December 14th this year.
Unfortunately, December 13th/14th is also a night of the Waxing Gibbous moon, which will be about 85% illuminated. This means it will interfere with your chances to see the meteors through most of the night.
The Peak of the Geminids in 2021
Let’s break down the idea of a “peak” during a meteor shower a little bit more. Basically, when a meteor shower occurs, the earth passes through a stream of debris left by a comet or asteroid. In the case of the Geminids, the debris which form the Geminids meteor shower are left by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which makes a 523.6-day orbit through the Solar System.
This trail of debris is more dispersed on the outer limits, and more densely populated with meteoroids near the middle. So when a meteor shower like the Geminids begins (and ends), the meteor activity is less – the earth passing through a less dense part of the comet’s trail; as we approach (and leave) the peak days, the meteor activity gets more frequent. On those peak nights, when we experience the greatest meteor activity since we’re passing through the densest part of the debris trail.
Astronomers describe the “greatest meteor activity” using a metric called Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR). This is the maximum (zenith) rate of meteors you’ll see in an hour.
All that is to say: the peak of the Geminids will occur on December 14. On this morning, the ZHR will be up to 120 meteors per hour! This is why people get excited about the Geminids: you can see roughly two meteors per minute!
Where to See the Geminids
When you ask “where can I see the Geminids?,” again – there are two answers:
- The first answer is about where you can see the Geminids in the night sky
- The second is about where you should go on earth to see the Geminids
Let’s break each one down.
The Gemini take their name from the constellation Gemini, which appears in the northern hemisphere near the constellations Orion and Taurus. If it helps, Gemini is located “above” Orion (if you orient Orion in your mind so that the figure is upright). The reason the Geminids are named after the constellation Gemini is that they appear to radiate from a point near the constellation; this is called the “radiant point.”
So regarding the first answer to where to see the Geminids, the answer is: near the constellation Gemini. As long as you can see Gemini above the horizon (use a star-finder app, like Night Sky), you should be able to see Geminids meteors.
In terms of where on earth to see the Geminids, there’s a lot of flexibility. Obviously, as mentioned, you need to be in the northern hemisphere, since Gemini is a northern constellation.
Also, it helps to be in a dark sky location, rather than near a city or town with bright lights. The darker the sky you can drive to, the better experience you’ll have! Here are more tips on seeing how to see the Geminids this year.
Tips to See the Geminids Meteor Shower
Here’s a quick list of tips to help make your Geminids viewing a success:
- Find a dark sky location. If you can’t travel far, our urban stargazing guide is a good places to start. Use our city stargazing guides to find a place 1-2 hours from where you live, or peruse our World Space Tourism Guide to find dark sky places around the globe.
- Plan for a night during peak activity. As mentioned, the peak of the Geminids will be around December 14th, so be sure to pick a night that weekend if you want to see the most activity.
- Look throughout the whole sky, rather than focusing on the radiant point. While the radiant point is helpful in trying to spot meteors, it’s actually better to scan the whole sky around the radiant point so you’ll see Geminids as they streak away from that area.
- Bring layers. It gets chilly at night, no matter where in the world you live! Bring extra clothing so your night of spotting meteors isn’t affected by being cold!
Special Equipment for Viewing the Geminids
You don’t need any special equipment to view the Geminids meteor shower, which is great. A telescope and binoculars won’t really work because meteors move so fast as they enter the atmosphere – your eyes alone are good enough!
If you want to try and photograph meteors, here are some resources to help:
- Here is our list of the best cameras for astrophotography, based on any budget.
- We have a list of astrophotography tips that will help you get acquainted with all the mechanics of shooting photos at night.
- Lastly, while it’s a similar topic, our post with aurora photography tips is helpful because some of the principles are similar for shooting meteor showers.
In general, the best thing to do is find a shutter speed, aperture, and ISO setting that allow you to capture the stars and any meteors in the frame you’re shooting. You may or may not see meteors with your eyes, but if you have your camera settings right, they’ll show up in the photos! (Many astrophotographers discover meteors in their photos even on non-meteor shower nights!)
Do you have any other questions about trying to see the 2021 Geminids meteor shower? let us know in the comments!