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Geminid meteor shower to put on a show Friday night

Published December 13, 2013 7:43 pm

Astronomy • The moon likely will decrease some visibility, but after midnight is the best time to watch.
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Despite the freezing temperatures, it looks like Thursday and Friday night will be a good time stay up late and get outside.

The Geminid meteor shower peaks after midnight early Saturday morning, and it historically has been one of the most productive showers of the year.

This year, a full moon will obscure some of the viewing, but people who get outside of the city's light pollution are likely to see a decent show, said Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah.

"Go out with your friends, bring something warm to drink, lay back and look up," he said. "With some luck, you might see quite a few of them."

Thursday night, when some meteors should be visible, will likely be somewhat cloudy, but Friday night should be clearer, said Mike Seaman, meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

"There may be some fog in the valleys, but if you're up higher, it shouldn't be a problem," Seaman said.

The best viewing time for the shower is after midnight as the Earth will be turning into the meteor swarm at that point, Wiggins said. He uses the metaphor of license plates on a vehicle: the front license plate always has a larger smattering of squished bugs than the rear license plate.

There isn't a specific place in the sky Wiggins suggests looking, as concentrating on one portion of the sky is bound to result in missing others elsewhere.

The Geminids are "cosmic visitors form a long-dead comet," Wiggins said, and most are the size of a grain of sand. They burn up and streak across the sky because as they enter the Earth's atmosphere, they compress the air in front of them, generating heat and igniting.

The reports of a possible meteor exploding over Arizona on Tuesday evening may have been an early Geminid, but it also may just have been a fluke meteor, Wiggins said.

In any case, he recommends bundling up and taking some time to look at the after-midnight sky Friday night/Saturday morning.

"The moon isn't going to help, but the Geminids tends to be one of the more productive meteor showers," Wiggins said. "If you're willing to brave the cold, you might see several of them."


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