Earthlings will have a good chance of witnessing shooting stars between sunset Thursday and sunrise Friday, courtesy of the Geminid meteor shower.
Dozens of bright objects will streak across the sky each hour between dusk and dawn as the annual Geminid show reaches its peak, according to the editors of StarDate magazine at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas in Austin. This year’s display will not be impeded by light from the moon, since it will set shortly after the sun does. (Southern Californians may be out of luck though, as weather forecasters are predicting a roughly 40% to 50% chance of cloud cover overnight.)
Despite their bright, twinkly appearance, the objects that will be on display are not actually stars – they’re remnants of the asteroid Phaethon that burn up when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. Our planet orbits through Phaethon’s debris field at this time every year. Most meteor showers are the result of Earth's passing through the remnants of a comet, but the Geminid meteor shower was the first to be traced to an asteroid, according to StarDate.
The meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini, since the objects seem to fall near one of its primary stars, Castor. You can get some help locating the constellation, which is northeast of Orion, from Space.com.