Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Til the Stars Fall from the Sky

Hello Fellow Stargazers!

I just wanted to invite all of you to join me tomorrow night (specifically, Thursday night into Friday morning) to observe the Geminid Meteor shower. This is an impressive display under almost any conditions but this year’s shower takes place at the "dark 'o' the moon" so that under clear, dark skies we should see more than a hundred “shooting stars” an hour around the peak time of midnight to early AM on the 14th. More useful info here.

Most major meteor showers are associated with comets; the particles of dust and ice that enter our atmosphere to produce natures' fireworks show are debris left along their orbits. The Geminids, however, seem to spring from asteroid 3200, or Phaeton. As we’ve discovered with unmanned flyby, orbital, and even landing missions on a handful of Asteroids, they are all different, and Phaeton is a real winner; it has an orbit around the sun which strongly resembles that of a comet, but spectrographic studies with earthbound telescopes indicate some pretty typical asteroidal materials making it up. One theory is that Phaeton is a large comet that has exhausted it’s store of "volatiles" (ices and other materials that can sublimate and form a comet's distinctive tail) and now zips around the sun leaving a trail of clay-ey deposits in its wake. We may not know for sure until a spacecraft gets out there to take a look—and that could be a while, yet!

I'll be watching (weather permitting) from Supply's bridge wings, here in the central Mediterranean, and I hope as many of you who can do so will be out there under the stars for what promises to be a spectacular show. Dress warmly and be safe out there--not only is it nice to have a friend out there to share the stars with, it just makes sense to have an "observing buddy". Even if you only go out in the evening hours, you are likely to see quite a few of these bright visitors from space—last night I watched from 8PM to 11PM and saw over twenty!

Enjoy the show!

Tom Epps
Resident Astronomer
USNS Supply (T-AOE 6)
Mediterranean Sea

No comments:

Post a Comment