Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018

Meteor shower with 120 shooting stars every hour

Meteor shower with 120 shooting stars every hour
11 Dec
2017

A 3-mile (5 km) wide asteroid, named 3200 Phaethon, will come 'close' to Earth this week, bringing with it the stunning Geminids meteor shower.

The shower will peak this Wednesday night, December 13th, when up to 120 shooting stars could tear through our skies every hour.

The much-awaited shower is one of the most spectacular celestial events of the year and the shooting stars are bright and easy to spot from all over the world.

A few days later the vast space rock 3200 Phaethon, described by Nasa as 'potentially hazardous', will pass 6.4 million miles from Earth - which is extremely close in space terms.

Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini.

Geminids appear as a streak of light against the dark sky and in recent years there have been around 60 to 120 meteors per hour.

The vast majority are only slightly bigger than grains of sand, but they create brilliant streaks of light as they slam into the planet's atmosphere.

The best time to catch the display is Wednesday night.

The display peaks at around 2am local time, no matter where the viewer is around the world, but is visible any time after around 10pm.

This is because the constellation, Gemini, which is the radiant point of the shower, reaches its highest point at around 2am.

Generally, the higher the Gemini constellation climbs into the sky, the more meteors are likely to be seen.

They will also be visible on Tuesday night with around 30 - 60 meteors visible per hour.

On Thursday night there will be around 15 to 30 a night, and by Friday just the odd one or two, writes Space.com.

They are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.

Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly, at around 22 miles (35 km) per second.

Usually you don't need any special equipment to watch the shower - a dark sky is best.

They are caused by 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid is roughly half the size of Chicxulub, the rock that wiped out the dinosaurs.

The huge object is named after the Greek demi-god Phaethon, who according to legend almost destroyed Earth.

3200 Phaethon has puzzled scientists because it has features of both an asteroid and a comet.

Its unusual orbit will see it pass closer to the sun than any other named asteroid.

In one of its previous close encounters with Earth, scientists spotted dust streaming from the space rock that resembles the melting ice tails seen tailing most comets.

But Phaethon’s orbit puts its origins in a region between Mars and Jupiter where asteroids commonly originate.

Typically, icy comets come from colder regions of space beyond Neptune.

In a statement, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University said: 'Apparently, this asteroid was once a much bigger object.

'But its many approaches to the sun have caused it to crumble into smaller pieces which eventually formed this meteor shower.

'If so, the asteroid itself could be the residue of a comet nucleus.

'The asteroid's extremely elongated orbit, thanks to which it sometimes gets to the sun closer than Mercury and it sometimes moves away farther than Mars, is another argument in favour of this theory.'

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