Our nights might be getting colder, but the middle of December brings some pretty spectacular sights across the night sky - the Full "Cold" Moon and the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.
The December full moon, which is appropriately nicknamed the "cold" moon, will peak at 12:12 AM on December 12th. How about that! We had a great view of the almost full moon last night and this morning. Viewing conditions will be ideal to catch another glimpse tonight with a mostly clear sky. The moon will rise just before sunset at 5:08 PM. It will reach peak "fullness" at 12:12 AM, and then set right after 8 AM tomorrow morning.
Mid-December also brings the peak of what is considered one of the best and most reliable meteor showers - the Geminid meteor shower. During the peak time, 120 Geminids can be seen per hour with perfect conditions. This meteor shower is known for its bright and fast meteors, and tend to be yellow.
Unlike most meteor showers which originate from the dusty tail of a comet, the Geminids come from an asteroid. Asteroid 3200 Phaethon was discovered on October 11, 1983. It is a relatively small asteroid, measuring only 3.17 miles across. 3200 Phaethon takes 1.4 years to orbit the Sun. The asteroid was named after the Greek mythology character who drove the sun-god Helios' chariot given its close approach to the Sun. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, that's where the shower gets its name.
Despite the cold nights, this is one of the best opportunities for young viewers to see a meteor shower. Meteors start between 9 PM and 10 PM each night. For the best view look up between midnight and dawn. You also want to avoid moonlight and city lights. Unfortunately the peak of the Geminid meteor shower will coincide with a waning gibbous moon.