Spectacular showers of up to 100 shooting stars an hour will light up the skies over Britain later this week – although you’ll have to get up early to catch them.
The Geminids meteor shower will see multi-coloured shooting stars burning up in our atmosphere on Thursday 14th December.
This year could see up to 120 shooting stars per hour – and viewers are advised to go to an open place away from street lights at 6.30am to see it at its best.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth ploughs through clouds of cometary dust.
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The tiny particles, some no bigger than a grain of sand, burn up brightly as they enter the atmosphere.
The Geminids are unusual in that they are not shed by a classic icy comet but a body that shares characteristics of both comets and asteroids.
There will be practically no moon in the sky during the shower.
Known as 3200 Phaethon, the three-mile-wide object was discovered in 1983 by two British scientists examining Nasa satellite images and initially classified as an asteroid.
But it has an eccentric orbit that looks more like that of a comet than an asteroid and brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, every 1.4 years.
Nasa describes it as a “rock comet”. Traditionally asteroids are made of rock, and comets mostly of ice.
The Geminid meteor shower itself was first noted in the 1860s.
Over time it has become more intense, with up to 20 comets per hour reported in the 1920s, rising to 50 in the 1930s, 60 in the 1940s and 80 in the 1970s.
Travelling at some 22 miles per second, the meteors burn up about 24 miles above the Earth.
Another unusual feature of the Geminids is that they can shine in different colours. Mostly glowing white, they may also appear yellow, blue, green or red.