Bundle up and get ready for one of year's top meteor showers.
“Arguably the best meteor shower of the entire year – the Geminids – peaks on Friday night into the early hours of Saturday morning,” AccuWeather astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said. “The Geminids shower is just as or slightly more active than the Perseids meteor shower of August.”
NASA agrees with this assessment, noting that "the Geminids are typically one of the best and most reliable of the annual meteor showers," the agency said in a statement. "It’s usually one of the best opportunities for kids who don't stay up late because it gets going around 9 or 10 p.m. local time."
Geminid meteors are bright and fast (79,000 mph), and the shower is famous for producing fireballs, which are meteors brighter than magnitude -4, the same magnitude as the planet Venus.
The Geminids are behind only August's Perseids when it comes to fireballs, according to Sky and Telescope.
The Geminids are named for the constellation Gemini, the point from which the meteors seem to radiate.
Although the meteors will appear to stream away from Gemini, Space.com said, they can appear all across the sky. For best results, look slightly away from Gemini so that you can see meteors with longer "tails" as they streak by; staring directly at Gemini will just show you meteors that don't travel very far.
One hitch this year: An abundance of natural light pollution from the nearly full moon, which will wash out some of the dimmer meteors. This could reduce the number visible to around 20 per hour, the American Meteor Society said. (Were it not for the bright moon, as many as 150 meteors per hour could be visible.)
In addition, cloudy skies may also be an issue in the eastern and northwestern U.S.; the clearest skies are predicted to be from Southern California east to Texas, according to AccuWeather.
This meteor shower is active every December when Earth passes through a massive trail of dusty debris shed by a weird, rocky object named 3200 Phaethon, NASA said. The dust and grit burn up when they run into Earth's atmosphere in a flurry of "shooting stars."
Phaethon’s nature is debated. It’s either a near-Earth asteroid or an extinct comet, sometimes called a rock comet, according to NASA.
Meteor showers don't require binoculars or telescopes to view – just your bare eyes and some patience.
The Geminids were first noted as a minor meteor shower back in 1862, NASA reported.
At the time of the Civil War, the shower's peak rate was about 30 meteors an hour. "Since then, the Geminids have gradually strengthened to become the strongest annual shower," NASA astronomer Bill Cooke said. "This is due to Jupiter's gravity nudging the stream closer to Earth."