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The Geminid meteor shower kicks off tonight

Though we're still more than a week away from the peak of the year's best shower, the first few Geminids are already starting to rain down.
Geminids
Geminid meteors streak across the sky during the peak of the shower in 2013.
Asim Patel/Wikimedia Commons

The Geminid meteor shower gets underway tonight. And with the Moon showing only a slim crescent phase this week, conditions could hardly be better for a sneak peek at what is arguably the best annual meteor shower.

Although the shower won’t peak until the night of December 13/14, you should start to see a few Geminids during the overnight hours. 

To tell a Geminid meteor from a random dust particle burning up in Earth’s atmosphere, trace the streak of light’s path backward. A shower meteor will appear to originate from the constellation Gemini the Twins.

The Geminids result from the mysterious asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which, thanks to periodic heating from the Sun, has left a trail of material in its orbit.

As the Earth passes through the debris-laden orbit of Phaethon, small grains of dust blaze through our atmosphere at about 80,000 miles (130,000 kilometers) per hour, brightly disintegrating along the way. 

Although you may only spot a few meteors tonight, on a clear night during the Geminids' peak, you can see anywhere from 75 to 100 bright meteors every hour.

For more quick and easy observing tips, make sure to check out The sky this week for November 30 to December 9

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