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Geminids warm up for annual light show

Conditions promising for meteor shower spectacular

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This year's Geminid meteor shower looks set to be a good 'un for European stargazers, with hopefully clear skies coupled with a slim waxing crescent Moon offering ideal conditions for the lightshow.

According to New Scientist, the Geminids should peak at around 1745 GMT tomorrow. Observers in Asia are advised to look skywards during the night of 14-15 December, while those in North and South America, although the peak occurs during daylight, should get "a few dozen meteors per hour" just before dawn tomorrow.

The Geminids - which appear to come from the constellation Gemini - are unusual in that they are caused by debris from 3200 Phaethon, a 5km-wide possible asteroid first spied in 1983 by NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite.

While other meteor showers are fuelled by debris expelled from comets during their closest encounters with the sun, 3200 Phaethon lacks a tail. Accordingly, scientists speculate its debris trail may have been caused by a collision with another body.

On the other hand, it's possible 3200 Phaethon is a spent comet which has lost all of its ice, in which case the Geminids represent the ghostly remains of its former tail. ®

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