Astronomy buffs in Vietnam and around the world are in for a stargazing treat this month, with this year’s biggest meteor shower already active and building to its peak on the night between Sunday and Monday. Typically occurring between 7 and 17 December each year, the Geminids are one of the highlights of the meteor year and can best be seen with the naked eye in a dark, open sky.
Meteor showers are created when the Earth drifts through a cloud of debris left behind by an astronomical body shooting through the Solar System, in this case by an unusual, ice-rich asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon. The Earth crosses its orbital path every December, causing the debris shed by the asteroid to crash into the upper atmosphere of our planet and vaporise as the spectacular Geminid meteor shower.
Scientists now believe the Geminids are intensifying, with up to 160 meteors flashing across the sky per hour in recent years. This year is particularly favourable for watching the shower as it will peak on a moonless night, which means that the sky won’t be flooded by moonlight.
The Geminids are generally more visible in the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern, so armchair astronomers in Vietnam should be well-positioned to take in the show. The preceding nights will also produce a decent display of meteors, but this year’s shower will likely be at its most impressive on the night of 13-14 December – starting as early as 9 in the evening but reaching the climax around 2 a.m. your local time, wherever you observe it from.
No special equipment is needed to watch the Geminids, but try and get as far as possible from artificial lights. Get an unobstructed view of the sky and lie on your back or sit in a reclining chair, and expect the meteors to radiate from Gemini, the constellation they are named for. Bear in mind that meteors come in spurts interspersed with lulls, and they range from faint, barely visible streaks to bright, colourful fireballs.
Hungry for even more night-time sky watching in Vietnam? You won’t be able to witness the total solar eclipse, also slated for 14 December but only visible in southern Chile and Argentina, but you may still like to circle another date on your calendar. Trailing closely behind the Geminids, a minor meteor shower known as the Ursids will streak across the sky between 17 and 25 December.