Tag: meteor shower

Grab Your Winter Coat and Catch the Geminid Meteor Shower Tonight

By Andrew Moseman | December 13, 2010 9:41 am

GeminidAnother great night for stargazers has arrived as the annual Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak tonight (Monday) and into Tuesday morning.

Although many people consider it to be a poor cousin to August’s Perseid shower, the Geminids often put on a better show. This year, observers can expect to see upward of 100 “shooting stars” per hour — an average of nearly two per minute — under a dark sky. [Astronomy]

If clear skies prevail, it should be an ideal year for gazing at this shower—so named because the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Gemini.

This year the Geminids are predicted to peak on Tuesday morning around 1100 GMT, more or less. That’s excellent timing for North America, especially out west. The moon that night is only a day past first quarter and sets around midnight or 1 am local time, depending on where you live. [New Scientist]

Unlike the Leonid and Perseid showers, which appear in the sky earlier each year and result from the Earth passing through the debris trail of a comet, the Geminds don’t have such a clear explanation. The meteors can be traced to an asteroid called Phaethon. Perhaps Phaethon is the iceless remainder of a former comet that has now lost its ice, but not everyone buys that hypothesis.

Indeed its spectrum links it to the large asteroid Pallas, 544km [338 miles] wide. Were Phaethon and other so-called Palladian asteroids blasted from Pallas in some ancient collision? And where does the dust in Phaethon’s orbit, our Geminid meteoroids, come from? One theory, backed up last year by observations of Phaethon as it passed through perihelion only 21 million km from the Sun, is that the Sun’s intense heat can cause Phaethon’s rocks to shatter, with the fragments able to escape Phaethon’s feeble gravitational pull to replenish the Geminids stream. [The Guardian]

Related Content:
80beats: Take a Look up at the Leonid Meteor Shower This Week
80beats: Perseid Meteor Shower: Where & When to Catch the Sky Show
80beats: Study: 20-Million-Year Meteor Shower Turned Earth Warm & Wet

Image: NASA


Take a Look up at the Leonid Meteor Shower This Week

By Andrew Moseman | November 16, 2010 4:49 pm

Leonids1833If you pull yourself out of bed before dawn tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday, take a look up at the sky. This week the Leonid meteor shower will streak across our skies.

The Leonids started out as tiny specks of dust and debris ejected by Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle during its countless voyages orbiting the Sun. As Earth passes through this stream of dust, the particles hit our atmosphere at about 158,000 mph (256,000 km/h), vaporizing due to air friction. This produces the streaks of light in the sky we call meteors. [Astronomy]

The shower lasts for about two weeks, reaching its apex over the next few nights.

Viewers under a dark sky can expect to see around 20 meteors per hour radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion. Unfortunately, a waxing gibbous Moon interferes with observations for much of the night. The best views will come after the Moon sets around 3 a.m. local time. [Astronomy]

While astronomers predict this year’s sky show will be tamer than last year’s, the Leonids have been known to strike the sky with a fury.

This spectacular 1833 Leonid meteor storm [seen above in a late-1800s engraving] made a deep and terrifying impression on the American people. According to newspaper reports almost everyone saw it, awakened either by the commotion in the streets or by the moving glare of fireballs shining into bedroom windows. This point of emanation of the meteors (called the “radiant”) was in the same place for all observers and remained so as the night wore on and the sky turned. Here was proof that the meteors were parallel to each other from somewhere outside of our atmosphere. [MSNBC]

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Leonids ROCK! (Check out the link to the amazing Mt. Hopkins video of a Leonid shower)
80beats: Study: 20-Million-Year Meteor Shower Turned Earth Warm & Wet
80beats: Found on a Martian Field: A Whomping Big Meteorite

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Perseid Meteor Shower: Where & When to Catch the Sky Show

By Andrew Moseman | August 11, 2010 10:25 am

PerseidsThis week brings the annual return of the Perseids, one of the most stunning meteor showers of the year, visible from just about anywhere.

WHAT: The height of the Perseid shower comes every August, because that’s the time our planet passes through a certain debris path.

The Perseids are created by the tiny remnants left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Earth passes through this material once a year, creating a spectacular show as the cometary particles burn up in the atmosphere [Discovery News].

WHERE: Like the Orionid meteors, which come around in October, the Perseids are so named because of the constellation from which they appear to originate.

If you trace the Perseid meteor trails backward, they meet within the constellation Perseus the Hero; this is how the shower got its name [Astronomy].

WHEN: Tonight (Wednesday) through Friday night we’ll see the height of Perseid visibility once the sky reaches full darkness, from 11 p.m. to midnight wherever you might be until the first light of dawn. On Friday night the crescent moon will set before twilight ends, giving stargazers a dark sky to gaze at.

Swift-Tuttle’s debris zone is so wide, Earth spends weeks inside it. Indeed, we are in the outskirts now, and sky watchers are already reporting a trickle of late-night Perseids. The trickle could turn into a torrent between August 11th and 13th when Earth passes through the heart of the debris trail [NASA Science News].

Indeed, the opening shot of the Perseids appeared as a bright fireball over Alabama on August 3.

WHAT YOU NEED: Your two eyes, and a place away from the city lights. For more cool Perseid details, check out Astronomy’s coverage.

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Related Content:
80beats: Found on a Martian Field: A Whomping Big Meteorite
80beats: Study: 20-Million-Year Meteorite Shower Turned Earth Warm & Wet
80beats: Scientists Pick Up the Pieces (Literally) of an Asteroid Spotted Last October
80beats: Perseid Meteor Shower Should Dazzle Despite a Bright Moon (2009 edition)

Image: flickr / aresauburn


Bundle up Sunday Night to Watch the Geminid Meteor Shower

By Andrew Moseman | December 11, 2009 10:46 am

Geminid425As we approach the winter solstice, you might find yourself cursing the increasingly short days. But if you’re an astronomy fan—or just a hot cocoa enthusiast who enjoys a good show—the long hours of dark will be a blessing this weekend as the Geminid meteor shower, one of the most visible and reliable showers, makes it appearance.

The Geminid shower peaks the night of December 13/14. Although often considered a poor cousin to August’s Perseid shower, the Geminids often put on a better show [Astronomy]. And this year the moon won’t hinder the Geminid display—it won’t rise until nearly 6 a.m., when dawn will already be upon us.

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