The biggest meteor shower of the year is set to peak this weekend, putting on a shooting-star show when the Geminids streak across the sky, at least in places that won’t be overcast.
The Geminids are notable for a few reasons that we might be able to trace back to their origin as pieces of an “extinct comet” called 3200 Phaethon. (An extinct comet is one that’s run out of juice and keeps following the same path without showing a tail.) According to NASA, the Geminids’ makeup helps them penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than other meteor showers, leading to the bright, long arcs lasting for as long as two seconds that the Geminids have come to be known for.
Phaethon’s orbit also brings it unusually close to the sun, which the agency explains “may boil jets of dust into the Geminid stream.” This extra dust makes the debris cloud that the Earth passes through each December far more massive than other meteor shower streams.