Nature’s ‘light show’ is how NASA describes the Geminid meteor shower. A meteor flash is seen here with an aurora borealis shimmer in Norway. Image: NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office

The Geminids meteor shower, the brightest shower of the year, will peak this evening. Stargazers are encouraged to head over to the darkest spots outside and look up for a show of lights streaming across the sky.

“The Geminids are often superior to August’s Perseid meteor shower,” said Dr. Alex Filippenko, astrophysicist and astronomy professor at UC Berkeley.

Meteors will be visible beginning 8 p.m., but they will be more prominent past midnight and will last until 5 a.m. Friday.

Each year, the holiday season brings with it the brightest meteor shower of the year, known as the Geminids. Those looking to observe the astronomical phenomenon should head outside to places with minimal light pollution. While meteors will be visible beginning 8 p.m., they will be more prominent past midnight and will last until 5 a.m. Friday morning.

Despite being referred to as a meteor ‘shower,’ that is more often than not an overstatement, according to Filippenko. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see perhaps 60 meteors in an hour, which is one meteor per minute,” but “30 to 40 per hour is much more realistic,” he said.

The meteor shower occurs each year around this time as Earth passes through debris created by a rock comet known as 3200 Phaethon. “Little bits of rock will burn up as they zip through Earth’s upper atmosphere,” said Filippenko, and thereby create the poorly named phenomenon known as a ‘shooting star’ or ‘falling star’, which “are not stars at all, of course!”

The Geminids look as if they originate from the constellation Gemini, hence the name. When observing the sky in search of meteors, viewers should look toward the namesake constellation since most meteors will be visible in that location, though looking in any direction will still work.

According to Filippenko, Gemini will be “in the east before midnight, overhead and in the west after midnight.”

When viewing the meteor shower, Filippenko recommends observing for at least half an hour, though preferably an hour or longer, to accommodate for the time it takes for people’s eyes to adjust to the darkness.

Geminid meteor shower image taken in 2011. Image: NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office

Light pollution will likely be one of the major obstacles people will face. Berkeley’s city lights coupled with a waxing crescent moon will mask some of the fainter meteors, but visibility is expected to improve after 11 p.m. when the moon sets.

The astrophysicist also recommends those in Berkeley head over to UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, Grizzly Peak, or simply anywhere within Tilden Regional Park to catch the show.

Visitors of Tilden Park should note, however, that the park closes at 10 p.m. — and, meteor shower or not, tonight will not be an exception.

The Lawrence Hall of Science’s outdoor area will remain open to the public all night.

As the night will be chilly one, with Berkeley expecting to reach a low of 49 degrees, meteor watchers are encouraged to dress accordingly.

For those who miss tonight’s meteor shower, Filippenko said the Geminids will continue Friday evening “but there won’t be as many meteors.”

Julie Chang is a multimedia journalist based in San Francisco. Her reporting interests include politics, culture and anything science-y. She’s currently honing her reporting skills at UC Berkeley’s...