A chance astronomical coincidence this week has put a damper on hopes of seeing all but the brightest Geminid meteors.
But there is some good news: the Geminids are known to produce some very bright meteors, so you have a good chance of still spotting some over a brighter than normal full moon.
Peaking on Dec. 13, the Geminids are generally regarded as a "sure thing" as far as meteor spotting is concerned. As dust particles from the "rock comet" 3200 Phaethon, these particles slam into our atmosphere at a speed of 78,000 miles per hour. As they are more gravelly debris than your average comet dust, there can be a higher number of sizable pieces that could penetrate deeper into our atmosphere, creating so-called bolides, or fireballs.
And this year we need the annual shower to work hard to beat the powerful glow of the moon that will also peak in brightness as a "supermoon." At 7:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday, the moon will culminate as the sixth and final supermoon of 2016, an event that will create unwanted glare for meteor enthusiasts.
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According to Spaceweather.com, the moon will be so bright that meteor counts will likely be reduced by a factor of five to ten and the likelihood of seeing faint Geminids will be nigh-on impossible.
Supermoons occur when the full moon coincides with the point in the moon's orbit about Earth is the closest - known as perigee. When this happens, the moon can appear 14 percent bigger in the sky, boosting its brightness by around 30 percent. Generally speaking, a full moon in the sky when trying to see other faint celestial objects is a tall order, but trying to spot faint meteors when the full moon's brightness has been boosted by a supermoon is a very tall order.
According to early reports, in the build-up to the Geminid peak, bright fireballs have been spotted, so we still stand a good chance of seeing a few bright fireballs over the moon's glow, but just don't expect the Geminid's usual exciting display.
This final supermoon of the year follows last month's historically close supermoon. Though you wouldn't notice a difference between tomorrow's supermoon and the Nov. 14 supermoon, the penultimate 2016 supermoon was the largest since 1948. November's record-breaker was down to the exact moment of full moon occurring within 2 hours and 30 minutes minutes of perigee. Such a close cosmic occurrence won't happen again until 2034.
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