2017-11-30 / Front Page

Geminids and Ursids showers will delight stargazers in Dec.

It’s more than just “shooting stars,” but entire showers that will rain down in December as both the Geminids and Ursids meteor showers will take place this month, which should excite the most avid of skywatchers and casual onlookers alike.

The Geminids shower is set to peak on Wednesday, December 13, and continue into the morning hours of Thursday, December 14.

Following the show, on the morning of Friday, December 22, the Ursids shower is set to have a “sharp” peak, which, according to meteor experts, means that observers will be able to view a lot more meteors on its peak day as opposed to the days leading up to and following it.

According to Space.com contributor Elizabeth Howell, “The Geminids are considered one of the best meteor show­ers every year, because the individual meteors are bright, and the peak can see meteors stream across the sky at rates as high as 120 meteors an hour. Under light-polluted skies, fewer meteors will be visible.”

Howell explained that this particular shower has been observed for nearly 200 years and has even grown in mag­nitude through the centuries. “In fact, it’s growing stronger. That’s because Jupiter’s gravity has tugged the stream of particles from the shower’s source – The asteroid 3200 Phaethon – closer to earth over the centuries,” she penned.

Regarding the Ursids shower, Howell also recommended that on the morn­ing of December 22, onlookers begin observances between midnight and just before sunrise.

“The meteor-shower radiant, which the meteors will appear to be flying away from, is near the bowl of the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor, near the celestial North Pole), and the radiant will climb higher in the sky in the pre-dawn hours,” Howell said. “Meteors will appear to be streaming out from the radiant, but they can show up all across the sky. Look a little bit away from the radiant, but not too far, to make sure that you catch sight of meteors with longer tails. That said, the Ursids are not known for leaving spectacular tails in the sky.”

Ursids has likewise been recorded for well over 200 years. It occurs, as with most meteor showers, when earth passes through the comet’s orbit, colliding with its left behind debris.

Typically, the night sky is justifiably romanticized for its glorious outpour­ing of the celestial heavens, visible to our naked, human eyes. There are, however, very practical tips and tricks suggested by Space.com, EarthSky, and other publications such as Mental Floss, for optimal stargazing outings and observations. l Before making the plunge to buy an expensive telescope, consider this instead: pull out those old binoculars from the back of the closet, dust them off, and put them to good use stargaz­ing. Thankfully, however, for both the Greminids and Ursids showers, they can be viewed with the naked eye. In fact, for the Ursids shower, its recom­mended that you watch with your bare eyes, because binoculars narrow your field of view. l Pick dark and clear locations where the night sky can be viewed without glow of city lights and other obstruc­tions. l Give your eyes enough time to adjust to the darkness. This can take up to 20 minutes, if not longer, but after the adjustment period dimmer stars and other objects become easier to see. l Take a blanket or lounge chair with you. Observing the zenith is a lot more comfortable when you aren’t having to crane your neck in order to see the stars. l Dressing appropriately is also important. Late night and early morn­ing hours can be cold, especially in December, so wearing layers and even carrying an extra sweatshirt or jacket with you can help keep your body tem­perature up. l View other constellations while you’re out. Get a star chart or download a stargazing app to your phone. The sky is easily learned and navigated with one of these nifty tools, and it can make your gazing experience more interesting if you know what you’re looking at. l Lastly, take time to reflect on the beauty and magnitude of the natural wonder known as space. It’s a glimpse into the vastness of the universe, and a small window to worlds we’ve yet to even behold.

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