THE Geminid meteor shower peaks in the night sky tonight, as Earth edges closer to the source of the shower, the 3200 Phaethon.
The source of the Geminid meteor shower is the 3200 Phaethon, which is unusual because comets usually create meteor showers with icy debris. The Phaethon was first discovered in October 1983 and named after the Greek myth about the son of Helios, the sun god, because it closely approached the sun. The meteor shower happens when Earth passes through a massive trail of dusty debris shed by the Phaethon.
The 3200 Phaethon is referred to as a rock comet as it shares characteristic with both asteroids and comets.
The Geminids were first reported in 1862 and have been recognised as an annual phenomenon since then.
But the source of the shower was unknown until 1983 when Phaethon was discovered.
Phaethon measures about three-miles across and loops around the Sun every 1.4 years in an orbit that approaches the glowing orb closer than any other known asteroid.
The asteroid gets as hot as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit as it nears the sun, which causes it to shed dusty debris.
The debris is about the size of sand grains or peas each time it passes the sun and the particles cause the meteor shower when they plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere at 22 miles per second, seen in early to mid December.
3200 Phaethon behaves more like a comet than an asteroid as it forms a tail - and some scientists speculate it’s more like an extinct comet than an asteroid.
Phaethon releases a tiny dust tail when it gets closest to the sun and the kind of activity has only been seen on two objects in the entire solar system, Phaethon and one other, similar object.