By STEPHEN DEAN
A Geminid meteor streaks between peaks of the Seven Sisters rock formation early December 14, 2010 in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The meteor display, known as the Geminid meteor shower because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini, is thought to be the result of debris cast off from an asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaethon. The shower is visible every December. (Image Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images).
The annual Geminid meteor shower peaked overnight on Thursday night (December 13), dazzling sky watchers around the world with a bounty of brilliant shooting stars.
The Geminids' peak was supposed to be good this year, as it occurred in a sky left dark by the new moon. Experts had predicted that viewers in rural areas might see 100 meteors per hour early on Friday morning (December 14) — and perhaps even more.
Judging by the reactions of many people, the Geminids did not disappoint.
"What an incredible show we had here!" , said Sean Parker, who watched the shower early on Friday just west of Tucson, Arizona. "I was able to see about 50 per hour."
Sky watchers on the other side of the world were enthralled by the Geminids as well.
"Awesome experience," said Mumbai, India-based Swaroop Hangal, who also captured a photo of a fast-moving meteor.
"Today, I had planned to see fifty streaks and then quit with or without a photograph," Hangal said. "I had almost lost hope when I could capture the fiftieth one, just between Betelgeuse at the bottom and Alhena in the Gemini constellation."
The Geminids— so named because they appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini (The Twins) — are one of the most dependably impressive annual meteor showers.
They result when Earth ploughs through debris shed by a 3-mile-wide (5 kilometres) asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. These tiny particles burn up in our planet's atmosphere, leaving bright streaks in the sky to commemorate their passing.
The Geminids' source is unusual for meteor showers, which are typically caused by streams of sloughed-off comet particles. Debris streams from the famous Halley's Comet, for example, produce the Orionids every October and the Eta Aquarids, which peak in early May.
If you missed the Geminid peak last night, don't fret; you still have a day to catch the shower this year. The Geminids should linger until Sunday (December 16) or so before fizzling out completely.