Tag: meteors

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


A Legit "Young Earth" Theory: Our Planet May Be Only 4.4 Billion Years Old

By Joseph Calamia | July 12, 2010 4:50 pm

103957main_earth8The bits that make up Earth apparently took their time pulling themselves together. New research hints that our home didn’t form as a fully-fledged planet until 70 million years after its currently accepted birth date, making the planet younger than scientists believed.

The evidence appears in Nature and looks at the Earth’s “accretion”–the swirling together of gas and dust that formed our planet. Researchers previously believed that the Earth’s accretion was a fairly steady process, happening in about 30 million years, but this study suggests that Earth took a lot longer to form.

“The whole issue hinges on working out how long it took for the core of the Earth to form, which is one of the big unknowns in this area of science,” said Dr. John Rudge, one of the authors at the University of Cambridge. “One of the problems has been that scientists usually presume Earth’s accretion happened at an exponentially decreasing rate. We believe that the process may not have been that simple and that it could well have been a much more staggered, stop-start affair.” [The Telegraph]

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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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Scientist Smackdown: Are There Signs of Life in a Meteorite From Mars?

By Andrew Moseman | December 3, 2009 4:59 pm

NASAbiomorphs425It’s back. ALH 84001, the meteorite of Martian origin that NASA scientists claimed in 1996 contained evidence of life on Mars, has returned to the scene. This time, the team published a paper in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (the journal of the Geochemical and Meteoritic Society). And the scientists say they’re more confident than ever that the meteorite shows signs of martian life.

The NASA team of David McKay, Everett Gibson and Kathie Thomas-Keprta garnered widespread attention and even an announcement by President Bill Clinton when the 1996 paper came out. The NASA claim focused on nano-sized evidence: magnetite crystals embedded in the meteorite, which arrived here on Earth 13,000 years ago. Because some Earth bacteria secrete magnetite, McKay and his team argued that the mineral in the meteorite could be of biological origin, and the ‘biomorphs” in this image (which is from the new study) could be a fossilized colony of tiny bacteria. But the research was widely panned, and the NASA team making claims for life on Mars subsequently retreated [Discovery News].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Space

Leonid Meteor Shower Set to Light Up the Tuesday Morning Sky

By Andrew Moseman | November 16, 2009 11:25 am

meteor-2In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, 2009’s edition of the Leonid meteor shower will reach peak viewing time for sky-watchers in North America. Star gazers who lift their eyes to the heavens between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. will likely be rewarded with a good show of “shooting stars.” A second, briefer, but very intense outburst is expected about 12 hours later — during the early-morning hours of November 18th in Asia [Sky & Telescope]. But that probably won’t last long enough for North Americans to see it when night returns here.

Like other meteor showers, such as the Perseids and the Orionids, the Leonids happen when Earth plows through a trail of debris left in the wake of a comet orbiting the sun [National Geographic News]. This comet, called Tempel-Tuttle, swings through the inner solar system about every 33 years, and last did so in 1998.

On special occasions we’ll pass directly through an unusually concentrated dust trail, or filament, which can spark a meteor storm resulting in thousands of meteors per hour. That indeed is what transpired in 1999, 2001 and 2002 [MSNBC]. This year won’t supply such a bonanza, astronomers predict, but we will see more meteors than average: probably 30 to 300 per hour, depending on where you are.

To get the most spectacular views, of course, you’ll have to venture away from city lights. But you won’t need to haul a telescope. For meteor showers, the naked eye is enough to enjoy the show.

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Will the Leonids Roar in 2009?
Bad Astronomy: Leonids ROCK! (Check out the link to the amazing Mt. Hopkins video of a Leonid shower)
80beats: Tonight’s Orionid Meteor Shower Should Be a Beauty, from October
80beats: Study: 20-Million-Year Meteor Shower Turned Earth Warm & Wet

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: comets, meteors

Tonight's Orionid Meteor Shower Should Be a Beauty

By Eliza Strickland | October 20, 2009 5:34 pm

meteor-2Tonight, in the wee hours, dedicated star watchers and people just looking for a good celestial show will turn their faces up to the heavens to watch the annual Orionid meteor shower. The Orionids are so named because the meteors appear to radiate from near the constellation Orion, aka the Hunter. This easily spotted constellation “kind of looks like an hourglass with a very recognizable belt of stars,” said astronomer Mark Hammergren [National Geographic News].

The “shooting stars” are really tiny fragments of debris left behind in space by Halley’s Comet, which loops through the inner solar system every 76 years and leaves a trail of dust in its wake. Most fragments are tiny, only about the size of a grain of sand–but they still go out in a blaze of glory as they vaporize in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The best time to watch will be between 1 a.m. and dawn local time Wednesday morning, regardless of your location. That’s when the patch of Earth you are standing on is barreling headlong into space on Earth’s orbital track, and meteors get scooped up like bugs on a windshield [SPACE.com]. Tonight’s star gazers will benefit from a dark, moonless sky.

NASA scientist Bill Cooke says the Orionids have been strong in recent years. “Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts of 60 or more meteors per hour” [SPACE.com].

Related Content:
80beats: For the World’s Best Stargazing, Head to Antarctica
80beats: Perseid Meteor Shower Should Dazzle Despite a Bright Moon
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Meteors

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: comets, meteors

Perseid Meteor Shower Should Dazzle Despite a Bright Moon

By Allison Bond | August 10, 2009 3:11 pm

PerseidSpace aficionados are getting ready for the Perseid meteor shower, a show of shooting stars that occurs each year in the middle of August. This year, the event is expected to produce more shooting stars than usual; however, they may be slightly harder to see because of the moon’s unusual brightness due to the phase it will be in during the showers.

The Perseid Meteor Shower, which consists of debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet, became active on July 17, but have largely been so disperse and faint to see. [A] noticeable upswing in Perseid activity traditionally begins during the second week of August, leading up to their peak. They are typically fast, bright and occasionally leave persistent trains. And every once in a while, a Perseid fireball will blaze forth, bright enough to be quite spectacular and more than capable to attract attention even in bright moonlight [Space.com]. Like other meteor showers, Perseid’s fiery show is the result of particles disintegrating as they speed into the Earth’s atmosphere.

In other years, stargazers have been able to see up to 200 meteors per hour. But because the moon will be at last quarter the night of Aug. 13 and it will be at a rather bright waning gibbous phase a night or two earlier, seriously hampering observation of the peak of the Perseids, predicted to occur late on the nights of Aug. 11 and 12. [Space.com]Still, although the moon’s brightness could hamper visibility, astronomers say the meteor shower should still be exciting to watch. 

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Found on a Martian Field: A Whomping Big Meteorite

By Eliza Strickland | August 4, 2009 3:31 pm

Martian meteoriteThe Mars rover Opportunity, an interloper on the Martian soil, has discovered another piece of metal that isn’t native to the planet: a boulder-sized iron meteorite that spun out of the sky and crashed into the planet sometime in the distant past. While the rock isn’t the first iron meteorite spotted on Mars (the two Mars rovers’ previous discoveries make this the fourth), it is the largest, measuring about 2 feet wide and 1 foot high. Researchers hope that studying the mega-meteorite will provide clues to the atmosphere and landscape that it encountered when it arrived on Mars.

Opportunity spotted the out-of-place object on July 18 and snapped a picture of it, but the rover was on its way towards a distant crater and didn’t stop. When NASA scientists saw the photographs, however, they ordered the rover to reverse course and head for the rock. “When you’re driving around on relatively smooth, flat, boring plains for a long time, anything that looks like a decent-sized rock says, ‘Come get me!'” says team member Albert Yen, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory [New Scientist].

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Space Shuttle Exhaust Provides Clues to the Mysterious Tunguska Event

By Eliza Strickland | June 29, 2009 10:55 am

noctilucent cloudsAs of tomorrow, 101 years will have passed since the Tunguska Event, the mysterious explosion that flattened 800 square miles of Siberian forest. Just in time for the anniversary researchers have come up with yet another explanation for what may have caused the baffling blast. Previously, researchers best hypothesis was that a meteor struck the forest, but scientific expeditions failed to turn up an impact crater or any fragments of rock. The new hypothesis, which will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that the Earth was hit by the icy core of a comet, which exploded in the atmosphere.

Researchers say that a comet strike would have released huge volumes of water vapour at very high altitude, creating highly reflective clouds that may explain why the sky was lit up for days after the collision, with people as far away as London saying that they could read newspapers outdoors at midnight, the scientists said [The Independent]. In an unusual twist, the evidence for the new theory comes from studies of the water vapor exhaust created by space shuttle launches.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space

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