for National Geographic News
Late Sunday night is the peak of the year's most prolific annual cosmic fireworks show—the Geminid meteor shower (Geminids picture).
The meteor shower has been growing in intensity in recent decades and should be an even better holiday treat than usual this year, since it's falling in a nearly moonless week.
Coming fast on the heels of its more famous cousin the Leonid meteor shower—which peaked less than a month ago—the Geminid show should feature as many as 140 shooting stars per hour between Sunday evening and Monday morning.
The Geminids are slow meteors that create beautiful long arcs across the sky—many lasting a second or two.
Favoring observers in the Northern Hemisphere, the Geminids are expected to be most frequent within two hours of 1:10 a.m. ET in the wee hours of Monday.
The shower's radiant—the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate—is the constellation Gemini, which rises above the eastern horizon after 9 p.m. local time.
Astronomers recommend observers head outside between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time.
As with any meteor shower, the Geminids will be muted in light-polluted cities, but even suburban sky-watchers may catch as many as 60 meteors per hour during peak time.
Geminid Meteor Shower: Rising Star
The Geminids have been historically overlooked, simply because of their timing so close to the busy holiday season and during frigid winter nights, astronomers say.
But that's beginning to change, thanks to the Geminids' rising intensity over the past few decades.
In fact, for many astronomers, the December meteors have now dethroned the more popular August Perseid meteor shower as the shooting star event of the year.
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