The Geminid meteors may have peaked over the weekend, but there is a chance at seeing some stragglers for a few more days.
Of all the year’s meteor showers, the Geminids are most interesting because they consist of shards shed from an asteroid that swoops deep into Mercury’s orbit in an ellipse similar to that of an ice comet. But it is a completely different object. Astronomers are only just beginning to learn more about this type of object, which has been dubbed a “rock comet,” according to NASA.
“The source of the Geminid meteor shower, 3200 Phaethon, looks a lot like an asteroid,” says NASA in the narrative accompanying this video. “Indeed, it comes from the asteroid belt and its colors resemble the colors of other asteroids in the rocky zone between Mars and Jupiter. Yet 3200 Phaethon has an unusual orbit that brings it deep inside the orbit of Mercury. When this happens, it brightens and sprouts a little tail in mimicry of a comet.”
The shower technically lasts through December 17 or 18, which is when Earth fully leaves the swath of material left by this mysterious object.
“The last Geminids are seen on December 18, when an observer might see a rate of one every hour or so,” says Meteorshowersonline.com.
That’s just a fraction of the dozens that rained down over the weekend, when the shower peaked.
What’s really behind this mysterious shower? Watch the NASA video below for the backstory.