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Annual Geminid meteor shower reaches peak, lighting up Japan's skies

A bright meteor from the Geminid meteor shower is seen in the sky above the natural scenic site of "Hashiguiiwa," in the town of Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, on Dec. 14, 2018. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

OSAKA -- The 2018 Geminid meteor shower reached its peak in Japan on the night of Dec. 14.

A flurry of shooting stars streaked through the sky above the natural scenic site of "Hashiguiiwa," some 40 small and large rock outcrops in the town of Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, the southernmost location on the main Japanese island of Honshu.

The best time to see the shower, one of the three greatest displays of shooting stars of its kind, was just after midnight, when the moon sunk over the horizon and the night was plunged into pitch darkness. The shower was seen across Japan, mainly in areas along the Pacific coast, where there were few clouds.

It is believed that the phenomenon is caused by a large amount of dust from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, which used to be a comet, casting light onto the Earth's atmosphere. Around early to mid-December every year, the Earth passes through the dust trail in 3200 Phaethon's orbit. This results in the appearance of the shooting stars.

(Japanese original by Shuichi Abe, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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