The Geminids meteor shower — caused by the extinct comet 3200 Phaethon and first detected by NASA in 1983 — was visible from the Ingraham Trail alongside the Northern lights on the evening of Dec. 14.
The Geminids meteor shower was forecasted to occur from Dec. 4 to 16, peaking the night of Dec. 13 and the morning of Dec. 14, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. This peak is when the most meteors were expected to fall per hour.
The almanac also states that meteors occur when the Earth passes through a stream of dust and debris left behind by a passing comet. When these bits strike the Earth’s upper atmosphere, friction with the air heats the particles and causes them to burn up. The Geminids appear brighter than most meteors because the outer layer of the extinct comet is completely gone, and its debris is mostly rocky material, which takes longer to burn up as they fall into the atmosphere. Most meteors are caused by the softer, icier debris from comets.
Also making the Geminids meteor shower unique is that the celestial objects move more slowly than other meteors, such as the Perseids, which is another meteor shower that takes place in August. The slower speed makes it easier to see the Geminids meteor shower.
Also according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Geminids were first observed in 1862 in Manchester, England. All other major meteor showers have been observed for centuries, making the Geminids meteor shower relatively new, comparatively speaking.
The Geminids meteors are visible all night long, and appear to fall away from the constellation Gemini.
The streaks of lights in the photographs are believed to be meteor trails below the aurora, according to William Archer, a program scientist working in solar-terrestrial sciences for the Canadian Space Agency.
The meteor trails were mostly white with trace colours in them. Archer said that the meteors travel fast enough that when they hit the dense portion of the Earth’s atmosphere and break up, both the atoms in the atmosphere and the meteor are excited, giving off light. Because the meteors can be made of many different elements, they give off different colours of light when they break up in our atmosphere, causing the meteor trails to have colour in them.
They formed mostly straight lines that stretched long across the sky, appearing underneath the Northern lights. Archer said the bottom edge of green aurora goes down to roughly 100 kilometers from the Earth, whereas the glow from a meteor trail occurs between 80 km and 120 km in altitude, relative to the Earth. The meteor trails would appear anywhere from a 10-second period to more than a minute. There were multiple appearances of the trails over the course of 30 minutes. Archer said the duration of the meteor trails were not typical, but some scientific studies observed a visible signature from meteor trails lasting for 30 minutes, citing a study from Sci-Hub.