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Bright Geminid Meteors

This month's Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak around the late evening of Tuesday 13th/early hours of Wednesday 14th. The shower is usually one of the best of the annual meteor showers, with many relatively bright, slow- to medium-speed fireballs.

Geminids are usually very bright yellow or green and may be seen in almost any area of the sky, but they appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini (near Orion) which in the early hours lies high in the south to southwest. Under ideal weather conditions, up to 100 meteors per hour may be visible.

These meteors are believed to originate from the near-Earth asteroid, Phaethon, discovered by a NASA satellite in 1983. The Earth passes close to the orbit of Phaethon each year, coming within 2 million miles of it. Hence, Phaethon is classed as a potentially hazardous asteroid. Hundreds or thousands of years ago, perhaps, a collision with another minor planet, or the vaporization of an ice deposit, may have caused the emission of the Geminid meteor stream.

This year there will be interference from the bright, nearly full Moon and it may be best to face north or northeast, with the Moon to your back, and view at an altitude of 45 degrees at the time of expected peak activity. Notice also at this time the planets Mars (low in the west) and Saturn (high in the south).

As it takes over a week for the Earth to pass through this meteor stream, it may be worthwhile to watch for the Geminids as frequently as possible during the one or two nights before and after the peak. We could even witness surprise outbursts of fireballs. However, do wrap up well in several layers of warm clothing!

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928; FAX: 028-3752-7174; jmfarm.ac.uk.

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Last Revised: 2005 December 2nd
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