Geminid Meteor Shower
If you have noticed some falling stars recently, it is because we are in the early stages of the Geminid Meteor Shower. The shower began earlier this week and will continue until December 19, with the peak viewing period coming during the 13th and 14th when up to sixty meteors per hour may be visible. The constellation Gemini, where the meteors appear to originate, will rise in the northeastern sky around 7:00 p.m. central standard time and by midnight will be high in the sky. So the best viewing is expected to be after midnight and into the early morning hours.
A gibbous moon will not help the viewing, but the Geminids have the reputation of occasionally producing a meteor “storm,” so it is still worth watching occasionally. It is like that old saying about meteor showers: “Watching falling stars is like fishing. You get outdoors to enjoy nature and hope you catch something.”
Unlike most meteor showers which are produced by debris from comets, the Geminids are produced by an asteroid (3200 Phaethon). Comets are often described as big dirty snowballs while asteroids are like small planets. 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.
It was not until 1983 that astronomers 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.
There is much to see in the sky over the next few days. Make a point to check the sky conditions occasionally, and if they are good, take a few minutes to watch this celestial show. This is the Grand Finale for this year’s meteor showers. Actually it may be the Not So Grand Finale for this year’s meteor showers because of the moon’s interference. But don’t fret. The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is coming in early January when a first quarter moon should make for better viewing.
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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