Thursday, December 13, 2012

Great Nights For Meteor Viewing

The next couple of nights should feature some pretty decent viewing out in the countryside for the last meteor showers of 2012.  Besides the Geminid shower, which peaks tonight and tomorrow night, a second meteor shower may coincide with the Geminids over the next couple of nights.

You can thank Comet Wirtanen.

Comet Wirtanen -- via Pik Terskol Observatory
From EarthSky.org: Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office says debris left in Wirtanen’s orbit might produce as many as 30 meteors per hour, added to the 100 meteors per hour from the Geminids. That would be an awesome meteor show!

The comet's tail, as it approaches the sun, spits off chunks of rock and ice that drift through space as the sun's heat helps melt some of the icy material from the comet. The earth, in its annual travels around the sun, will pass through various streams of comet debris, which results in annual meteor showers such as the Perseids in late July and August.

Wirtanen's orbital time is just 5.4 years -- contrast that to the 75-76 years for Halley's Comet.  It's also not a comet whose debris trail will get passed by  the Earth's orbit.  This year may be different though.  A Russian meteor forecaster says computer modeling projects that the Earth may pass through these streams of debris over the next few nights, coinciding with the Geminid meteor shower.

Like general star gazing, the farther out from the city one is, the better the view will likely be as light pollution is reduced as one moves out into the rural parts of Bucks, Chester, and Berks Counties.  More tips on meteor viewing from EarthSky.org -- and remember to bundle up, since you can't just head outside and "chill" in a sweater and jeans.  It is December after all!