Big month for meteor-spotters
December features two spectacular meteor showers – as long as the clouds hold off. Andrew Masterson reports.
December is a big month for night-time sky-gazers, with two annual meteor showers zipping across the sky within a single fortnight.
The Geminid meteor shower is due to kick off around December 7 and peak between December 13 and 14, during which time, around 2am for every time zone, observers can expect to see as many as 130 shooting stars an hour.
The Geminids, as the name suggests, appear to emanate from the constellation known as Gemini. In reality, however, they are debris tossed out by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. The asteroid – just 5.8 kilometres in diameter – swings comparatively close to the sun and in 2017 passed within 10 million kilometres of Earth.
As the Geminid shower tails off, another, the Ursid, powers up. This shower – smaller and less intense – appears to emanate from the constellation Ursa Minor, but is in fact associated with a passing comet, called 8P/Tuttle.
The first Ursids will be visible on the night of December 17, but the show hits peak – and a rate of 10 an hour – between December 22 and 23. Sadly, the Ursids will not be visible in the southern hemisphere.
Enjoying both the Geminids and Ursids requires no special equipment. Astronomers recommend setting up in a nice comfortable spot as far away as possible from ambient light sources, lying down, and watching the sky.
For more details, including best viewing angles and times for your location, click here.