A Geminid fireball explodes over Mojave Desert in 2009. Photo by Wally Pacholka
If you are lucky like me, and live away from the curse of urban light pollution, you are in for a sky show that peaks beween midnight of the 12th and sunrise of December 13. Earth is on its annual collision course with the most intense meteor shower of the year: the Geminids! If there is an absence of clouds you could be rewarded with up to 120 meteors per hour. And according to the good folks at NASA these rich fireballs can be seen from almost any location on Earth. But if you are surrounded by street lights, neon and the glow of thosands of homes you will miss the show. I will head down to my lightless meadow down by the barn, bundled up against the winter cold and snow and sprawl out on a lawn chair with my eyes to the sky and my ears to the coyotes. Life doesn't get much better than that!
But even modern science has mystery, the Geminids not excluded.
According to NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, "Most meteor showers come from comets which spew ample meteoroids for a night of 'shooting stars'. The Geminids are different. The parent is not a comet but a weird rocky object named 2300 Phaethon that sheds very little dusty debris - not nearly enough to explain the Geminids." And you got to love it when Cooke in his press release also states "This makes Geminids the 900 pound gorilla of meteor showers" even though 3200 Phaethon is "the 98 pound weakling."
I'm not going to worry about the science mystery in our sky. I've got a hot date with a sizzling debris stream and her name is Geminid.
An artists concept of an impact event on the asteroid Pallas, a possible mother to Geminid. Credit: B.E. Schmidt and S.C. Radcliff of UCLA