Stargazers across the world got a treat this weekend when the Geminids meteor shower gave the best holiday displays a run for their money.
The meteor shower is called the "Geminids" because they appear as though they are shooting out of the constellation of Gemini. The meteors are thought to be small pieces of an extinct comment called 3200 Phaeton, a dust cloud revolving around the sun. Phaeton is thought to have lost all of its gas and to be slowly breaking apart into small particles.
Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing a shower of meteors, which hit its peak over the weekend. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention, but today the annual light show is an anticipated event around the world.
One of those observing the annual astronomical event was Andreas Vogel, of Bremen's Olbers Planetarium, who caught the action outside the town of Dangast, located on German's North Sea coast, early Sunday. Vogel said 120 shooting stars might be visible in an hour when conditions are perfect, though this one delivered far fewer.
On a NASA discussion board, most of those watching were not disappointed.
"Watching from our balcony...stars are brighter than normal which makes the meteors even more exciting and beautiful to watch! Seen about 6 in 15 minutes!" said a woman who identified herself as Megan from Connecticut.
Similar sentiments were echoed across North America, with several observers saying they saw upwards of 20 shooting stars in less than an hour.
"In the middle of Edmonton, I saw a gigantic streak fly across the sky in the 15 minutes I was outside," said a forum participant identified as Bryan. "It was pretty cool and felt very fortunate considering all the buildings obstructing my view."