COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bright meteor, or fireball, witnessed in parts of Ohio and multiple states a little past 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 was a precursor to the annual Geminid meteor shower.

Under mostly clear skies away from lights, as many as 50 to 100 meteors per hour or more could be observed on the night of Dec. 13-14. However, clouds will blanket the region midweek and obscure the view, unless there are some significant breaks in the overcast.

During mid-December, Earth passes through a debris trail moving at 80,000 mph relative to our planet, causing tiny particles to burn up entering the upper atmosphere and giving off bright streaks of light visible at ground level.

“Geminids are one of the best meteor showers of the year,” said Don Stevens, director of Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

December is one of the cloudiest months of the year in Ohio, so the Geminids receive less attention than the Perseids draw in August. Stevens added that the moon will be last quarter at peak, dimming the show.

“Unlike most meteor showers, the source is an asteroid and not a comet,” Stevens said. “The asteroid is 3200 Phaethon.”

Stevens said the asteroid was only recently discovered in 1983, is about 3 miles in diameter, and completes its orbit every 1.4 years, making the closest approach to the Sun of all named asteroids.

Stevens noted that the asteroid moves “within half the orbit of Mercury” and “its orbit and composition make it a likely former comet.” 

He said the Geminid meteor shower was first observed in the late 1800s, becoming more intense in the past century.

The debris trail could be the result of a collision or orbital shift closer to the sun, Stevens said.

“The extremes in temperature could lead to the breaking down of the layers near the surface, and the IR (infrared) radiation coupled with its rotation (could be) driving that material off its surface,” Stevens said.