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Geminids Meteor Shower Peaking Tonight


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Dozens of bright objects will streak across the sky each hour between dusk and dawn as the annual Geminid show reaches its peak, according to the editors of StarDate magazine at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas in Austin.  This year’s display will not be impeded by light from the moon, since it will set shortly after the sun does.  Despite their bright, twinkly appearance, the objects that will be on display are not actually stars – they’re remnants of the asteroid Phaethon that burn up when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere.  Our planet orbits through Phaethon’s debris field at this time every year. Most meteor showers are the result of Earth’s passing through the remnants of a comet, but the Geminid meteor shower was the first to be traced to an asteroid, according to StarDate.

The meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Gemini, since the objects seem to fall near one of its primary stars, Castor.  As a bonus, the Geminid meteor shower may get a boost from dust left behind by Comet Wirtanen, according to NASA.  Bill Cooke of the space agency’s Meteoroid Environment Office predicted that the dust could create up to 30 additional meteors per hour.

According to this explainer from NASA, Comet Wirtanen has not crossed paths with Earth since it was discovered in 1948.  But Russian forecaster Mikhail Maslov has run computer models that indicate our planet could cross the comet’s debris stream as many as four times between now and Friday.  If Comet Wirtanen does produce meteors, sky watchers will be able to distinguish them from Geminid meteors because the meteors from the comet will appear to emanate from the constellation Pisces, according to Earthsky.  Tonight after dark you need to look to your west to view the meteors.  Here is an handy-dandy constellation map.  The best viewing will be around the Gemini, Taurus, and Orion constellations.

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As always the best way to view the meteors is away from city lights and in the countryside.  Here in Anniston the best spot is in the Talladega National Forest along AL-281.  The greatest number of the Geminids Meteors will fall after midnight around 1-2 am central.  Here are some great tips from Earth Sky about the Geminids Meteor Shower tonight!

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/ten-tips-for-watching-the-geminid-meteor-shower

If you don’t feel like going outside in the cold to watch the meteor shower.  NASA will hold a  live web chat overnight from 10 pm to 2 am central, complete with live video of streaking meteors captured by a special camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Click on the link to join in the fun!

http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids2012.html

Skywatchers who miss tonight’s peak will have a few other chances to catch the Geminids this year. The shower should linger until Sunday or so before petering out completely.  Enjoy viewing!

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