Geminid meteor shower takes the stage
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — It's time for the December sky show.
Those willing to endure the cold and stay up past their bedtimes are about to be treated to the annual Geminid meteor shower.
This year's shower will begin to peak just after midnight Thursday and last through dawn. Then it will be back Friday night into the predawn hours of Saturday. Falling stars should be visible beginning mid-to-late evening and ending at dawn both nights.
The shower, whose origins are mysterious, will be partly obscured by a waxing moon, but those who venture into the cold should be rewarded by seeing at least a few shooting stars, astronomers say.
The meteors will start few and far between in early evening but will increase in number as evening deepens into late night. Worldwide, these meteors will fall most abundantly in the hours after midnight, with the largest concentration at 2 a.m. EST.
“Meteor showers have personalities,” said Deborah Byrd, editor in chief of EarthSky.org, a science and astronomy site based in Austin. “The Geminids tend to be bright and they tend to be white, so they can withstand a fair amount of moonlight.”
The best way to see them “is to go to sleep for a few hours and then get up around 2 a.m.,” Byrd said.
The moon begins to slowly set about that time and will be fully down by 4 a.m. wherever the watcher is in North America.
“As the moon gets lower in the sky, it's going to be easier to see the meteors,” she said. Standing in the shadow of a building to block the moon's light will also help. The light of the moon resets the eyes and makes it harder to see faint objects.
The moon is in its waxing phase and will be gibbous (more than half full) and up most of the night, so its light will compete with fainter meteors.
The Geminids get their name because they appear to emerge from the constellation Gemini. They're not actually coming from that group of stars, but it appears that way from the Earth.
The Geminid is one of the best meteor showers of the year, usually producing upwards of 50 falling stars an hour when there's no moon. Even with the moon's light interfering this year, a good number of meteors should be visible.
Meteor showers in general are caused when Earth passes through the dust trail left behind by a comet. “The dust bits burn up in the Earth's atmosphere as we plow through the cloud,” said Benjamin Burress, an astronomer at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, Calif.
The Geminids “are specks of debris from 3200 Phaethon, which is not a comet, as you might expect, but an asteroid,” said Rick Kline of the Planetary Imaging Facility at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
The asteroid is “a mysterious type of object sometimes called a “rock comet,” Burress said. Astronomers don't quite understand how or why an asteroid is producing a comet-like stream of dust.
The shower actually lasts for longer than just two nights, said Ron Hipschman, a scientist at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. “We actually run through the dust trail of 3200 Phaethon from Dec. 4 to Dec. 17.”
The portion of the trail the Earth will be going through is densest from Dec. 12-14, so that's when the most meteors will be visible.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Gray wolf decision reversed
- Ghostly snailfish found at record depth
- Traffic deaths down 3 percent
- Your electric car may not be so green if coal generates the electricity
- Replacement part beamed up to space station
- FBI’s 2001 anthrax attack investigation questioned
- Supreme Court won’t stop gay marriages in Florida
- Bush officials gave CIA wide latitude on interrogation tactics
- Texas ponders allowing open carry of handguns
- Bush-era officials bash Senate’s CIA report
- Companies support Microsoft in email privacy case