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In the Stars – Stargazers have treat coming with Geminid meteor shower (Dec. 10, 2014 issue)

The Geminids are returning. I suppose you could also say it also is the return of this column. While I thoroughly enjoy writing this column; my main duties as advertising director here at The Erwin Record have kept me so busy lately that I haven’t been able to take the time to write. However, I am very excited about the return of the yearly Geminid meteor shower this month and wanted to share the information with you.
Known as one of the most brilliant and reliable meteor showers, the Geminids has the potential to produce as many as 120 multi-colored meteors per hour! The source for the yearly December Geminid meteor shower is a stream of debris from “rock comet” Phaethon 3200.
Meteor showers typically come from comets, yet technically, there is no comet that matches the orbit of the Geminid debris stream. Discovered in 1983 by NASA’s IRAS satellite, Phaethon 3200 looks like a rocky asteroid.
Although an asteroid, Phaethon sprouted a tail in 2013 according to a release from NASA. At that time it was given the classification of “rock comet.” A rock comet is an asteroid that comes so close to the sun that solar heating scorches dusty debris off its rocky surface. This forms a sort of gravelly tail.
Although the Geminid meteor shower is not expected to reach its peak until December 14th, NASA’s network of all sky cameras have already detected at least three Geminid fireballs over the USA – two weeks early. Meteor sightings will increase in the nights ahead as the Earth travels deeper into the debris stream. While meteors will radiate from the Gemini constellation they can appear anywhere in the sky.
December also has a gift for sky watchers in the form of a 2nd meteor shower! The Ursids meteor shower is a minor one, only producing about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tuttle. The shower runs each December, from the 17th through the 25th. It peaks this year on the night of the 22nd, after midnight.
This will be one of the best years to observe this shower because there will be no moonlight to interfere with the show. The constellation Ursa Minor will be the point the meteors will radiate from, although they can appear anywhere in the sky.