2012-12-13 / Editorial

Best meteor shower of the year is tonight

I’ve always been fascinated by the heavens above. So when astronomers say that the best meteor shower of the year will occur on a night when locally we have clear skies and a dark new moon, it gets my attention.

The Geminid meteor shower is expected to start about 11 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Dec. 13). Meteors should be visible until about 3 a.m. on Friday, the experts say. The best viewing should be shortly after midnight. One should be able to see as many as 100 meteors an hour.

Look toward the constellation of Gemini to the east in the evening.

According to EarthSky.org, the Geminid meteors are named for the constellation of Gemini the Twins.

Here’s an interesting fact: We have always called meteors “shooting stars,” but EarthSky says that they have nothing to do with the stars. These meteors are a phenomenon of our own solar system. Around mid- December each year, our planet Earth will cross the orbital path of an object called 3200 Phaethon, which may be an asteroid or an extinct comet that is orbiting our sun. The object is about 3.2 miles in diameter and is shedding ice and other debris due to its orbit of the sun.

Debris from the object burns up in our Earth’s upper atmosphere giving us the annual meteor shower.

As an added attraction, NASA has announced that there may be a second meteor shower tonight that may coincide with the Geminids. It should cause a significant boost in the number of meteors that will be visible tonight. The second meteor shower is linked to the Comet 46P/Wirtanen. It should produce up to 30 meteors an hour.

That means we have about 130 meteors an hour in the night sky.

Enjoy the light show in the cosmos tonight! You don’t need any special equipment to watch the meteors. Just find a spot away from bright lights and watch the sky to the east.

— Jeff McDonough

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