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December 11, 2020

How to watch the Geminid meteor shower at its peak Sunday night

Astronomers predict the annual display may be the best of the year, but weather could impact viewing

The Geminid meteor shower considered to be the most prolific event of its kind in 2020, is peaking this weekend, giving people the possibility of viewing the annual phenomenon.

Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere will have a chance to see the meteor shower which runs each year from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17. It is considered one of the most active and reliable to watch.

Geminid occurs when meteors fall from the passing parent comet 3200 Phaethon. But to viewers, it looks like brilliant white and green shooting stars near where the Gemini constellation is located in the night sky.

At the right time and under the right conditions, there is a possibility of seeing between 50 and 150 passing meteors per hour. Viewers don't even need a telescope since the display can be seen with the naked eye.

The peak of the Geminid shower is expected between Sunday night and Monday morning, particularily around 2 a.m. in at any time zone in the Northern Hemisphere. That's when the sky is darkest.

A moon-free sky is expected to make chances of seeing it even better in 2020, since the new moon beginning Monday nearly coincides with the day of Geminid's peak.

"The Geminids produce a good number of meteors most years, but they're made even better this year as the shower's peak coincides with a nearly new moon. (Thus making for darker skies, with no moonlight to interfere with the fainter meteors.)" NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab explained.

NASA says for the best chance of seeing Geminid, heading to less-polluted areas away from the glare caused by cities. Once there, viewers should actually lie down on the ground with their feet pointed South.

"For best viewing, find a safe location away from bright city lights, lie flat on the ground with your feet pointing South, and look up."

The Geminid shower may provide another opportunity for Pennsylvania viewers who attempted to see the Northern Lights, which astronomers had predicted could be viewed Thursday night in the continental U.S., for a rare opportunity. 

Scientists changed their tune Thursday morning ahead of the night-time viewing and said it wouldn't be possible, but people in Alaska still witnessed it that night.

Weather in the Philadelphia area has a chance of impacting visibility this weekend, with a potential storm heading to the area next week. Prior to that, some fog and clouds are expected to develop starting Friday night.

Here is the forecast for the area over the weekend, according to a forecast from the National Weather Service's Mount Holly, NJ station.

Saturday Night: Partly cloudy in the evening, then becoming mostly cloudy. Lows in the upper 40s. Southwest winds 5 to 10 mph.

Sunday:  Mostly sunny. Highs around 60. Southwest winds 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.

Sunday Night: Mostly cloudy. Cooler with lows in the upper 30s. West winds around 5 mph.

Monday: Snow likely in the morning. Rain likely. Little or no snow accumulation. Much cooler with highs in the lower 40s. Chance of precipitation 60 percent.

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