One of my favorite childhood memories happened one night in British Columbia, when a meteor shower was set to take place overhead. My brother and I curled up in sleeping bags on our uncle's trampoline, armed with ice cream, and watched endless streaks of meteors stream across the sky. It was an experience that led me to develop a lifelong love of space — a love of space that, with the Geminid meteor shower around the corner, you can pass on to your own kids as well. Here's how to see the Geminid meteor shower and have an astronomy-filled night with your own brood.
Luckily for those with packed schedules, the meteor shower will take place over the span of several days. It starts on Sunday, Dec. 4, and will continue all the way until Friday, Dec. 16, lasting just shy of two weeks. The meteor shower will peak near Dec. 13 or 14, but Dec. 14 will bring a bright full moon with it as well, so make sure you catch the meteor shower earlier on in December. Even before its mid-month peak, it should still be quite the visible spectacle: At peak times (around 9 and 10 p.m.), the Geminid meteor shower offers up 60 to 120 shooting stars an hour, and it's visible across the Americas.
According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the meteor shower really gets busy at around 9 or 10 p.m., making it "one of the best opportunities for kids who don't stay up late." To catch the show, head away from city lights to a wide, open space. Arrive about 30 minutes before the meteor shower begins in order to let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and keep your external light sources (cell phone, flash lights, headlights) down to a minimum.
Despite kids' affinity for gadgets, make sure you stow away any telescopes or binoculars. According to NASA, both devices lower your likelihood of spotting a meteor, since they zoom in on a single spot in the sky. Instead, keep eyes relaxed — they'll naturally zone in on any movement they catch.
To get your kids extra hyped up about the meteor shower, feed them a little bit of extra information about shooting stars — or rather, the bits of an asteroid that break off and burn as they enter the earth's atmosphere. By experiencing something as magical as a meteor shower and learning all about how and why it happens, you'll help infuse a love of science and astronomy into your little ones. Whether that translates into them becoming future astronauts or simply allows them to appreciate the night sky, you'll be giving them a pretty great gift.