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Skywatch: Geminid meteor shower set to put on a show

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An Orionid meteor streaks across the Colorado sky during one of the most recent meteor showers. Photo courtesy Daniel McVey, Click on the image to see more of McVey’s astrophotography.

Shooting stars to peak Dec. 13; moonless night could yield up to 60 meteors per hour

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of the year’s best meteor showers peaks this week under what could be ideal viewing conditions, with no moonlight to mar observations of the bright shooting stars. The only question for viewers in the Colorado high country is whether skies will clear enough to offer a nighttime view of the Geminids, so named because they appear to originate from the Gemini constellation.

The meteor shower peaks on the nights of Dec. 13 and 14. the best viewing is between midnight and dawn, with up to 50 to 80 meteors per hour possible — that’s more than one per minute during peak activity, the winter equivalent of the August Perseids. Odds are good, even if you only head outside for a few minutes on one of these chilly winter nights, that you’ll catch a glimpse of a shooting star (if the skies are clear).

Experts from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will be available to answer meteor questions on a late night web chat, and there will also be a Ustream the same night featuring views of the shooting stars. The Ustream and the web chat will be at this NASA website. Continue reading

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Orionid meteor shower to light up the weekend night sky

Shooting stars courtesy of Halley’s Comet

An Orionid streaks through the skies over Summit County, Colorado. Photo by Daniel McVey. Click on the image to see more of McVey’s astrophotography.

Look for the three bright stars of Orion low in the eastern sky to orient yourself for this weekend’s meteor shower. Photo by Mouser courtesy Wikipedia via a GNU free documentation license.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After its 1986 appearance, many of us will probably not have an other chance to see Halley’s Comet during its next rendezvous with Earth in 2061, but we can enjoy meteors generated by remnant pieces of the comet during the Orionid shower, set to peak Saturday night.

For the best view, astronomers say to generally look eastward after sunset, toward the Orion constellation, which hangs low in the sky this time of year. The shower often generates 20 to 25 meteors per hour, and sometimes up to 50 or 60. You can also watch live online at this NASA website.

Even though Halley’s Comet is long gone, the sun continues to melt the comet little by little, freeing up rock particles that stay on the comet’s trajectory. When that faint trail of debris brushes through the Earth’s atmosphere every October, we get a show of shooting stars.

On the other side of the celestial calendar, Halley’s Comet also generates the Eta Aquarid meteor shower each April and May.

According to NASA, the Orionids move very fast, at a speed of 147,300 miles per hour, so they don’t last very long, generally burning up in the upper atmosphere. But every now and then, a larger chunk of ice and rock can result in a spectacular fireball with a lingering contrail.

After this weekend, there are two more chances to see shooting stars. The Leonids will peak Nov. 17 under an evening crescent moon, and the Geminids on Dec. 13 under a dark-sky new moon, according to Stardate.org.

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