Christmas lights of a special kind will be visible over the UK this week as the Geminid meteor shower puts on a seasonal show. Find out all you need to know about this shooting star spectacular!
Is there a person on the planet who doesn't get a thrill from seeing a shooting star? The December timing of the Geminid shower reflects the sparkle of Christmas, adding a special magic to a natural wonder.
What are the Geminids?
The scientists call it 3200 Paethon. That's the name of the body that flies though space leaving behind it a trail of debris, causing the meteor shower. It's a particularly bright meteor shower, which is just as well because this year it will be competing with the light of a supermoon. Weather permitting, it will still be easy to spot the shooting stars in the right conditions.
How to see the Geminids
The meteor shower will be at its peak late on Thursday 13 December into the early hours of Friday 14 December. If you have the staying power, 2:00 am is the best time to look, but it won't make a big difference if you do your stargazing earlier.
The shooting stars are travelling at a speed of around 22 miles per second, which is a steady speed in meteor show terms and gives a great chance of spotting them. No special equipment is needed, just wrap up warm and enjoy the show. Here are a few tips to get the best experience:
• Get away from the city: light pollution in city and town centres is high. Head to a more rural setting or a park.
• Allow 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust: even the beam of your torch will impair your night vision.
• Be patient and consistent: once you have chosen your spot, stay put and relax. Your Christmas light show will commence!
• Phaeton comes from Greek Mythology. He is the son of Helios who was killed flying his father's chariot too close to earth. Even scientists love a good story!
• The Geminids, along with January's Quadrantids, are the only meteor showers that don't originate from a comet; 3200 Paethon is a Palladian asteroid. We'll leave it at that.
• As our old friend 3200 Paethon flies through space, little bits break off. When these bits hit the earth's atmosphere they burn up and this is what you see as shooting stars.
• The Geminids appear to radiate from the Gemini constellation in the night sky, which is the reason for their name. You don't have to worry too much about finding the Gemini constellation as you will see the shooting stars anywhere in the sky.
• The Geminids were first recorded over 200 years ago from a riverboat on the Mississippi River and they have been getting steadily stronger ever since as they have been pulled closer to the earth by Jupiter's gravity.
Stargazing in the forest
Staying at a Forest Holidays location? Find a clearing and enjoy the celestial spectacle. We make a great effort to keep light pollution low, which reveals the night sky in a glory that many of our guests have never before witnessed.
Thorpe Forest, Forest of Dean, Cropton, and Keldy all have some cabins that are open to the skies, so you can enjoy the Geminids from your hot tub! Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre have open aspects across the lochs which gives you a vast, dark canvas for your stargazing.
If the idea of watching shooting stars from a hot tub has captured your imagination, we have a handful of cabins available for the next meteor shower, the Quadrantids. Extend your Christmas holidays with a New Year break starting on 31 December; the peak viewing time for the Quadrantids is 3 January.
Stargazing for Beginners
Caught the stargazing bug? We have some resources to help you learn more about the night sky, from a guide to what you can see throughout the year to some useful tips from astronomer, Steve Bowden. There are also some great apps, some free, which tell you exactly what you are looking at when you look skywards at night.
In the meantime, enjoy the Christmas lights!