December Meteor Showers The Geminids and Ursids

Geminid Radiant, delaware ,sussex county, meteor showers, star gazing
Geminid Radiant, but

Tonight the 13th of December is the peak for the Geminids in 2016.  The full “super moon” will make it difficult to see the amount you would normally see without a full moon, but it still should be a good show.  The winter solstice this year is on the 21st but the Ursids will still peak on the 22nd for 2016.

The information below was written last year, however,  yearly this happens in December about the same time.  The viewing information is the same.  Enjoy the show.

This month we can see the Geminids and Ursid meteor showers.  The peak night for the Geminids is the 13th to 14th of December.  These are active from the 4th to the 16th of December.  They are usually the strongest showers of the year. Radiating from the constellation Gemini it is also the easiest to observe since the constellation is in the perfect place by 10 PM.

meteor, cape henlopen state park, ghost tower
Meteor picture by Mac Davis

These are often bright and intensely colored due to slow velocities.  The parent object of the Geminids is the 3200 Phaethon (asteroid).   NASA astronomer Bill Cooke’s favorite meteor shower … “ The Geminids are my favorite,” he explains, “because they defy explanation.”  Meteor showers typically come from comets which create meteoroids that create shooting stars.  The amount of dust shed by  3200 Phaethon an asteroid is minimal andmakes the explanation of the Geminids difficult.  “Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids’ is by far the most massive,” says Cooke. “When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500.”   Phaethon was discovered in 1983 by NASA’s IRAS satellite and classified as an asteroid.  The Geminids can produce up to 120 meteors per hour.  The best viewing time should be between midnight and sunrise on Tuesday, Dec. 14th, 2015.


Ursid Radiant, december meteor showers, delaware, sussex county
Ursid Radiant

The Ursids are much less of a rate than the Geminids producing 5 to 10 “shooting stars” per hour.  Their parent object is comet 8P/Tuttle.  The fact Christmas happens this time of year people rarely observe these meteors due to the bustle of holiday preparation.  This is also during the winter solstice which is Tuesday December 22nd (2105), the shortest day of the year. There have been bursts recorded of 100 meteors per hour but that has been random.  The Ursids radiate from near the star Kochab located in the bowl of the Little Dipper asterism, which is part of the  constellation Ursa Minor the Lesser Bear.  Hence the name the Ursids.  The new moon will occur during the peak of this shower so the viewing should be excellent in the north-northeast skies.   The greatest number of meteors at the peak of the shower will be between midnight and dawn during either Monday, December 22, or Tuesday, December 23, 2015.

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Rich King
***  Asterism … a prominent pattern or group of stars, typically having a popular name but smaller than a constellation.  (Dictionary)

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