Geminid Meteor Shower 2014



It is time to watch for falling stars.  The Geminid Meteor shower, considered by many to be the best meteor shower of the year, will start this weekend (Sunday the 7th) and run through Wednesday December 17 with the peak viewing period coming next Saturday night (13th).

During the earlier and later portions of the meteor shower there may not be very many meteors.  But during the peak period next weekend, there could be up to 120 meteors or more per hour.  The show could be quite impressive even though there will be some interference from a waning gibbous moon.

The Geminids are so named because they seem to originate from within the constellation Gemini.  The best viewing is expected to be in the east after midnight.  There is an interesting story associated with the origin of the Geminids.  Unlike most meteor showers which are produced by debris from comets, the Geminids are produced by an asteroid (3200 Phaethon).

The Geminid meteor shower is reported to have started rather suddenly in the mid 1800’s.  What puzzled scientists was that no known comet could have been the source of the meteor shower.  By the mid 1900’s it became apparent that there must be some other source of the display, but it was not until 1983 that astronomers at the Palomar Observatory in California confirmed that the origin of the meteor shower was, in fact, an asteroid.  That was the first scientifically proven connection between an asteroid and a meteor shower.

You may have heard the Natural North Dakota a while back about the recent changes in the classification of Canada geese. Based on the results from recent genetic studies on Canada geese, the American Ornithologists’ Union split what most of us know as the Canada goose into two species.  The larger forms (perhaps seven subspecies) are still the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) while the smaller subspecies (perhaps four) are now known as the cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii).

A listener recently asked me how the subspecies of Canada geese were differentiated prior the DNA analysis.  Biologists used a variety of characteristics to make their determination such as their size or weight, variations in coloration, shape of the head and neck, the pitch and other differences in calls, as well as the ranges of the birds.  In many cases a hunter or casual observer would have a tough time differentiating many of the subspecies.  Now, however, the DNA analysis has yielded new insights into the relationships within this interesting species.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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