Nighttime sky-watchers willing to brave the cold were treated to a spectacular display of shooting stars Wednesday night (cloud cover permitting).
The Geminid meteor shower, which returns every December, was widely regarded as the most impressive of this year, according to a NASA news release.
"With August's Perseids obscured by bright moonlight, the Geminids will be the best shower this year," said Bill Cooke with NASA's meteoroid environment office. "The thin, waning crescent moon won't spoil the show."
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The dazzling display of celestial fireworks was forecast to reach its peak of one per minute between midnight and 4 a.m. local time, Cooke reported. He noted good rates would also be visible between 7:30 p.m. and dawn the morning of Dec. 14.
The Geminids are spawned by pieces of debris from the distant asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Every December, Earth’s orbit crosses the asteroid’s and those particles burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, creating a meteor shower that lights up the night’s sky.
This year, Phaethon will fly its closest distance to Earth since its discovery in 1983, according to NASA.
Meteor showers can be seen with the naked eye and don't require binoculars or telescopes, though the best view is from the Northern Hemisphere. Observers will see fewer Geminids in the Southern Hemisphere.
NASA's Geminids webcast had a live stream from the Automated Lunar and Meteor Observatory at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, starting at sunset, about 5:40 p.m. ET on Dec. 13.