Posts Tagged ‘meteor showers’

Phaethon Cometh

Posted: 7 December 2007 in Uncategorized
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One of the dark horses of the inner solar system makes its closest approach to Earth since it was discovered in 1983 soon.  Phaethon is an asteroid (perhaps the burnt out core of a comet).  We pass through its debris trail every December, resulting in the Geminid meteor shower.  This year, the Geminids will peak on December 13-14th.  Bonus:  the Geminids are likely to be even better than the Perseids this year.  Unfortunately, it’s cold out.  Plus I have an exam on the 14th.  This meteor shower didn’t get the memo I sent out that it had to fall on a weekend.

So what’s special about the Geminids?  Phaethon is a source of denser meteors than are found in most other meteor showers.  This results in meteor paths that can be jagged and more meteors that break apart and split.  According to, the Geminids have a history of slow, bright meteors and faint meteors, but few medium-brightness ones.  The moon will be a faint crescent and peak times will see 60-120 meteors per hour.

For more on the discussion of whether Phaethon is a burnt out comet or an asteroid, check out Astroprof’s page on the topic.  If you happened to download Celestia when I talked about it before, you can also download an add-on that includes a few thousand near-Earth objects.  Phaethon is included in that pack (it doesn’t come with Celestia by default, or at least I couldn’t find it).  That site (the Celestia Motherlode) has a number of very awesome additions to Celestia, so I recommend checking it out.


Leonid Meteor Shower

Posted: 16 November 2007 in Uncategorized
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This weekend will be the peak time for the Leonid meteor shower. It is so-named because the meteors originate from the section of the sky corresponding to the constellation Leo. The most locateable star in Leo is Regulus, which rises these days just after midnight on the eastern horizon. A little while later, Saturn rises behind it. Saturn and Regulus are both fairly bright so they make an easy pair to spot. The sky map below is from a perspective of Pittsburgh, PA at 1:51 am tonight (November 17, 2007). Peak time for the shower will be around 4am tonight and tomorrow night. [source]

Of course, you don’t have to find the constellation Leo in order to enjoy the Leonids. The comet Tempel-Tuttle leaves a trail of dust as it orbits the sun and occasionally we stray right into it. In 1833, the event was so huge people from Europe and North America took note of it. Estimates of the storm activity put it at over 200,000 meteors per hour! I dream of such a thing. It even led to the song “Stars Fell on Alabama.” Another big storm occurred in 1866 and again in 1966. Unfortunately, it looks like this year will be a modest viewing year, which puts the Leonids lower on the totem pole than the Perseids, which occur back in early August.

Viewing conditions for Pittsburgh look grim, which is typical of this time of year. This morning we had our first real snow. It had snowed a week or two ago briefly, but that was more of a snowy drizzle/wintry mix. Today there was actually accumulation on the dead leaves in the yard and on some cars. Nothing major yet.

The constellation Leo with Regulus and Saturn, where the Leonid meteor shower originates

Total Lunar Eclipse Blues

Posted: 27 August 2007 in Uncategorized
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Much to my sorrow, it looks like seeing the total lunar eclipse that is to happen early tomorrow morning is not in the cards. The eclipse will begin just after 4:51am. At that point, the moon will be 18 degrees above the western horizon, which means I’ll have a hard time getting to a place in Pittsburgh where I can view it free of buildings, mountains (hills), or trees. By 5:30am, when half of the moon is consumed by the partial eclipse, it will be a mere 12 degrees above the horizon. By the time the total eclipse starts, it will be about 6 degrees above the horizon and dawn will already be brightening the sky. If I lived in Los Angeles, the moon would be a whopping 36 degrees above the horizon when the total eclipse began.

At least I still have the Aurigids to look forward to this Saturday. We’re going to Donna’s mom’s house, in semi-rural eastern Pennsylvania. The viewing won’t be as good as my uncle’s location in Ohio, but it will certainly suffice. The Aurigids are a meteor shower caused by the passage of comet Kiess in 4 AD and later in 1911 AD. A trail of debris circles the sun in its path and the Earth occasionally passes into this trail. The great news is, it appears that this year we are poised to go straight into the heart of this debris field. The bad news is, it will again be mainly viewable on the west coast. The shower will peak around 4:30 in the morning in the west. The last Aurigid shower had mostly bright meteors that came in vivid colors. The next Aurigid shower won’t be in my lifetime.

NASA: “Strange Lights: The 2007 Aurigid Meteor Shower”

The Aurigid Meteor Shower Viewing Campaign


There will be a team from the University of North Dakota travelling to Las Vegas to provide a live webcam feed of the lunar eclipse.

National Geographic has a nice graphic showing how much of the eclipse will be visible where.

Beautiful Bolide

Posted: 13 August 2007 in Uncategorized
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As I mentioned in a previous post, I visited my family in Ohio this past weekend. The Perseid meteor shower peaked Sunday night/Monday morning, but the shower was going fairly strong Saturday night/Sunday morning. For the first time since the early 90’s I got a chance to sit out beneath the stars in perfect weather with no moon to watch a meteor shower.



Posted: 10 August 2007 in Uncategorized
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The Perseids meteor shower peaks around August 11-12 every year. This year I’m going to visit my dad and uncle (and their families) in rural Ohio. There is absolutely no light from cities there so this should be a great viewing this year. I’ve only been able to view the Perseids from a remote location once before, sometime in the early 90’s, so I’m looking forward to it. Also, there will be no moon, so viewing will be optimal. Unfortunately, I’ll be viewing them Saturday night and the peak is going to be Sunday night/Monday morning. Right now the weather forecast is extremely favorable, calling for clear conditions. I hope (and pray) that this time the meteorologists get it right.

Perseid Meteor Shower