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Sun, Dec 13, 2009

Peak Of Geminids Meteor Shower Hits Sunday Night

Shooting Stars To Light Up Night Skies

Don't be startled if you see some bright flashes in the night sky over the next few days; the Geminids meteor shower is in progress. NASA expects the fiery lightshow to peak the night of December 13/14 (9:10 pm PST/12:10 am EST/05:10 UT), coinciding with a nearly perfect new moon.

"You could expect to see over 100 meteors per hour during the peak viewing," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "During the late evening hours of December 13, look for streaks of light radiating from a point near the star Castor in the constellation of Gemini, which will be high above the eastern horizon for mid-northern latitudes."

While a sign of the zodiac may have provided the name for the meteor shower, scientists have established the source as something more tangible. "We do know that the origin of the Geminids is a Near-Earth object called 3200 Phaeton," said Yeomans. "It is probably the remains of a comet that has burned off its ices after eons looping throughout the solar system. Phaeton has a trail of pebble and dust-sized debris that stream out behind it. Once every mid-December, Earth's orbit carries it into this stream of debris."

Since all other meteors showers are due to the sand-sized particles from active comets, it seems reasonable to assume that Phaeton is, or at least was, a comet. However, Phaeton has shown no cometary activity, so it is classified as an asteroid - the only asteroid to have an associated meteor shower.

"It is important to note that the orbits of Earth and Phaethon itself will not intersect," added Yeomans. "There is no chance the two will meet. But the result of our planet flying through its debris field is an opportunity for science and the chance to see Mother Nature at her best."

FMI www.NASA.gov

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