Friday, December 10, 2010

Geminids Meteor Shower on December 13th, 2010

Now for something that does not contain the words SpaceX or Arsenic :)

Credit: Starry Night Software

Perhaps the best meteor shower of 2010, the Geminids will appear starting on the evening of December 13th and peaking during the morning of December 14th. Because the meteor's radiant is nearly circumpolar they will stay in view above the horizon almost all night. So what causes a meteor shower? Most meteor showers are caused when the Earth's orbit passes through the fragmentary tail of a comet. These fragments are swept up by the Earth's atmosphere and as they burn up they become visible as long streaks of light. The Geminid meteor shower is unique in that it is not associated with a comet, but with an asteroid - 3200 Phaethon. Phaethon is odd in that it orbits very close to the Sun (closer than the orbit of Mercury) like a comet but is actually an asteroid.

The Gemenid's radiant - which is the point that the meteor shower seems to radiate from - is in the direction of the constellation Gemini. In the evening of December 13, the radiant will be low in the northeast but by 10:00pm PST the radiant will be almost directly overhead. So those of us who live in the west coast of the US will have a great chance at viewing it earlier in the night.

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