Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fireballs in the Sky

Location of the Geminid meteor shower.
This image is from
One of the events our family looks forward to in the summer is the Perseid meteor shower in mid-August. We live out in the country and have a good view of the north and northeast sky, which is perfect for viewing this shower.

This week there is another opportunity to view a meteor shower, the last "regular" meteor shower of the year. The Geminid meteor shower will occur from late night on December 13 until dawn on Friday, December 14. This shower often produces 50 or more meteors per hour, up to as much as 100 per hour.  This year, a new moon means a dark sky on the peak night of the Geminid shower (mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14). The peak usually occurs around 2:00 a.m. local time, but meteors should be visible beginning about 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. local time. The shower is named the Geminid because the radiant (the point where the meteors appear to originate) appears to come from the constellation Gemini. This will be visible in the northeast sky. If you have a smart phone, there is a neat free app called Google Sky Map which helps you find constellations or other astronomical features from your location.

While the new moon is favorable for viewing, the weather in much of the U.S. won't be ideal. A ridge of high pressure will be slipping off of the east coast late Wednesday, and the weather will be most favorable from the mid-Atlantic coast into the Gulf States and then to central Missouri. Clouds associated with a frontal system snaking its way from Quebec through the Central Plains to southern California will muck thing up for areas just south and to the north of the front. Low level moisture being pulled into Texas by the southerly winds on the back side of the ridge will likely result in cloudiness that hampers viewing there.  A trough of low pressure heading out of the Front Range will keep skies cloudy in the Central Plains.

Forecast surface map for Wednesday, December 13, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. CST.
The area within the  yellow line should have the most favorable viewing conditions for the Geminid meteor shower.

1 comment:

  1. " Not only is the Geminid meteor shower active as Earth passes through a stream of debris from "rock comet" 3200 Phaethon, but also, say forecasters, a new meteor shower could make an appearance.
    "The source of the new shower is Comet Wirtanen," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. "Dust from this comet hitting Earth's atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour."
    -------------- I observed one small bright earth-grazer last evening at 10:00pm EST, and will report it... other than that, slim pickings prior to midnight...