Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Geminids!

Called "the most satisfying of all the annual meteor showers" by NASA, the Geminids will be arching gracefully through the skies tomorrow and Friday nights. The Geminids stand apart from the other showers (Leonids, Perseids) because they seem to have spawned from an earth-crossing asteroid named 3200 Phaethon rather than a comet. 3200 Phaethon may actually be the nucleus of a burned out comet that might have gotten trapped in a tight orbit. 3200 Phaethon recently passed a mere 11 million miles away from the Earth. It hasn't been that close since the early 1980s.

Last year's Geminid display was hindered by the moon, which was two days past last quarter phase. The moon will be a mere sliver in the sky tomorrow night, setting soon after 8p.m. The Geminids will be bright and slow, leaving few streaks behind. Mars, blazing orange, will be hanging out in Gemini tomorrow night, as well. 60 to 120 meteors each hour will cruise through the sky Thursday night. As nightfall approaches, look towards the east-northeast horizon. The meteors peak around 9 p.m. CST. I'll be standing in an old field well outside Columbia's city limits, gazing skyward in hopes of finally seeing a meteor shower in Missouri.

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