For skywatchers in North America, Sunday's Geminid meteor shower promises to be one of the year's best.
While Asia got the best view of the recent Leonid meteors – leaving the US with a paltry 20 to 30 flickers per hour – this time around, America will get a great seat. Early estimates suggest that up to 140 meteors will streak across the night sky every hour.
So, when should you head outside? This year's peak will hit Sunday around midnight Eastern time and continue into Monday morning. As always, check your local weather forecast before staying up late on a school night. It's worth taking a gamble for the Perseids on a warm August night. But it takes determination, or at least a top notch winter jacket and thermos full of hot chocolate, to venture out in December if the weatherman calls for clouds and chance of disappointment.
"The Geminids is one of the finest, and probably the most reliable, annual meteor shower," writes the International Meteor Organization. "Geminids are slow, bright and occasionally colorful. Many observers consider the shower to be more spectacular than the famous Perseids in August, but the Geminids are less widely known because of the cold and often clouded December nights in the northern hemisphere."
If you do spot meteors tonight, you're witnessing the debris left from a long-gone comet. The cloud of space junk brushes Earth each December, igniting the annual Geminid light show. In case you missed the grand event Sunday night, traces of the Geminid cloud will strike Monday night as well, but only a few dozen per hour.