VIDEO: Shooting stars due to provide one of most dazzling displays ever this week
Night-time sky-watchers willing to brave the cold can look forward to a spectacular display of shooting stars later this week.
The Geminid meteor shower, which returns every December, is predicted to be one of the most dazzling ever.
An almost absent moon will ensure that the meteors, widely regarded as the most impressive of the year, stand out brightly as they streak across the sky.
The best time to see the Geminids will be between 1am and 2am on Wednesday and Thursday.
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: “They’ll be very good because there’s virtually no moonlight getting in the way at all.
“Weather permitting, it could be one of the best displays we’ve had for a long time. The last one like this was in 2014, when there was very little moon. “On average, you should see one or two meteors a minute, maybe 90 per hour under really good conditions.
“Some of the brightest meteors I’ve seen have been Geminids. They move relatively slowly across the sky so are easy to photograph, and you can get one or two fireballs among them.”
The shooting stars will appear to emerge from a “radiant” point in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, in the south-east. However, looking towards the constellation of Orion and the nearby Pleiadies or “Seven Sisters” star cluster may provide the best view, says Mr Scagell.
Meteors are tiny particles, often no bigger than a grain of sand, normally shed by icy comets. The Geminids are unusual in that they originate from a rocky asteroid called 3200 Phaethon with a comet-like orbit.
They were first observed in 1862, much more recently than other meteors such as the Perseids and Leonids that date back to antiquity. Because they enter Earth’s atmosphere at an angle, the Geminids also have a slower closing speed than many other comets.
As they hit the air and burn up they are travelling at about 79,200mph. In comparison, the Perseids approach Earth at 133,200mph and the Leonids at 162,000mph.