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Every year in December the dust of an asteroid passes by Earth creating a magnificent viewing experience for astronomers of all ages and skill called the Geminids Meteor Shower.

This year's peak viewing time will be Friday between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. but can be seen as early as 9 p.m. locally.

In order to make the experience more memorable and educational, Elephant Rocks State Park has decided to hold a special Geminids Meteor Shower viewing event from 5 p.m. to sunrise.

This means that the park will be open after hours free of charge for the public. The park rarely holds after-dark events and will offer stargazers the perfect spot free of light pollution.

"This meteor shower was first reported in 1833 by a Mississippi river boat captain," Missouri State Parks Natural Resource Manager Bryan Bethel said. "It is dust from an asteroid, not a comet, and the asteroid is named 3200 Phaethon."

Bethel said the asteroid orbits the sun every 1.4 years and leaves the trail of dust which passes Earth every December. 

"The shower gets brighter every year as Jupiter's gravity pulls the dust closer to the Earth," Bethel said. "This shower can be viewed with the naked eye and no telescopes or binoculars are needed but you can bring yours if you want."

Bethel said the moon will set around midnight on the Friday and the best viewing will be high in the southern sky near the constellation Gemini.

As the event is being held during the winter, park staff reminds those attending to dress for very cold winter conditions.

"It is often colder on the rocks than the average local temperature so even if it is a mild night you can become chilled sitting for long periods in the park," Bethel said. "No tents or other invasive camping equipment such as propane heaters, lanterns, etc. will be allowed but you can bring portable chairs and blankets to keep warm."

Bethel said absolutely no campfires will be allowed and asks all to remember it is a carry-in carry- out park and to only bring with them what they will be able to carry out when they leave.

Park staff will be available to direct attendees to the best and safest areas to view the shower and trash receptacles will be available in the parking area.

"Please be respectful of other visitors experience and avoid excessive use of artificial lights and excessive noise during the event," Bethel said. "So if you like star gazing, light shows and are able to brave the cold this is your event, come out and create a lifetime memory at Elephant Rocks State Park."

Elephant Rocks State Park is located at 7406 Highway 21 in Belleview. For more information about the event call the site at 573-546-3454. For more information on state parks and historic sites visit mostateparks.com

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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