Geminids Peak!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 11, 2015 – 3:48 pm -

Image Credit: Jimmy Westlake

After a week of slowly ramping up, the annual Geminid meteor shower kicks into high gear, reaching its peak in the overnight hours of Sunday, December 13. With the moon out of the way, sky conditions promise to be perfect for this celestial fireworks show.

Every year around mid-December, Earth plows into a cloud of debris left by the comet-like asteroid Phaethon, causing a shower of meteors that appears to come from the direction of the constellation Gemini.

Best views of the peak will be from the dark countryside, far from city lights, with up to 100 shooting stars visible per hour. From suburbs, these numbers are expected to drop to 20 to 60 meteors per hour, depending on local light-pollution levels. But even in urban centers across the Northern Hemisphere, the brightest meteors, called fireballs, should be easily visible under clear skies. The Geminids should produce a few fireballs during the peak hours from local midnight to just before dawn on Monday.

For this and other celestial events, visit my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Geminids Grace Skies

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 4, 2015 – 7:25 am -

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Starting Saturday, December 5, the annual Geminid meteor shower officially begins.

While only a trickle of meteors will be visible during the overnight hours, the shower will ramp up over the next two weeks and peak on December 14. At that point, the shower will become one of the premier astronomical events of the year.

The shower gets its name from the Gemini constellation, where all the shooting star appear to radiate out from.

For more information about this or other celestial events, check out my National Geographic column, StarStruck.


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Taurid Meteor Shower

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 4, 2015 – 2:12 pm -

Taurid Meteor shower lights up nights from Nov. 5 to 12, late night in eastern skies.

Taurid Meteor shower lights up nights from Nov. 5 to 12, late night in eastern skies.

From late night Thursday, November 5 through November 12 skywatchers should be on the lookout from exceptionally bright meteors known as fireballs. These shooting stars will appear to radiate out from the part of the sky occupied by their namesake constellation Taurus, the bull, which rises in the east late nights this time of the year.

The shooting stars have distinct yellow-orange coloration and move a bit more slowly across the sky than the average meteor. Throughout this week, as many as a dozen per hour could be visible from dark skies.

For more celestial events, check out my National Geographic column, Starstruck.


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Orionids Streak Sky

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 19, 2015 – 2:40 pm -

Up to 20 meteors can be seen nights of October 20/21 seemingly emerging from Orion constellation.

Up to 20 meteors can be seen nights of October 20/21 seemingly emerging from Orion constellation.

From late night Tuesday through Thursday morning, ten to 20 shooting stars per hour will zip across the night sky.  As meteor showers go, this one is more of a sprinkle, but the Orionids make up for modest performance with a distinguished pedigree. Orionid shooting stars are part of the debris shed from the most famous of all Earth’s icy visitors, Halley’s Comet.

Individual meteor streaks can be traced back to the shower’s namesake constellation Orion, which rises in the northeast in the overnight hours. Absolute peak is expected sometime late night on the 21st into the early morning hours of the 22nd.


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Possible Major Meteor Shower This Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 22, 2014 – 8:30 pm -

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Skywatchers across North America are waiting with much anticipation for a new meteor shower that may even rival the trusty Perseids in August.

Some predictions are calling for up to 200 shooting star per hour between 2 and 4 am Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, May 24th (11 pm on May 23 to 1 am PDT).  And there is one prediction by an astronomer that it may even be a meteor storm coming our way with up to 1000 meteors per hour!

About three years ago astronomers studying comets and their deris stream made a prediction that on May 24, 2014 Earth may be graced by a never-before-seen meteor shower called the ‘May Camelopardilids’.  Like all other showers, this one gets its name from the constellation where it appears to radiate out from, which in this case is Camelopardis – the giraffe.

While all this sounds extremely exciting we have to remember that these are based on computer models that are plotting out where Earth may be plowing through a cloud of debris floating between the inner planets.  Meteor showers occur when our planet slams into a stream of particles left behind by comets.  In this case its debris deposited in the 1800’s.   So basically one big educated guess where exactly Earth will be crossing the cometary debris cloud that causes the meteor shower.

It could literally be the best sky show in decades or a big bust.

But since no one knows for sure, I know what I will be doing in the early morning hours of Saturday. Getting out my blanket, brew some hot chocolate and keep looking up.

Read my complete viewer’s guide with skycharts at National Geographic News.


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Ontario Fireball Sets Off Meteorite Hunt

Written by The Night Sky Guy on March 21, 2014 – 2:28 pm -

This is a shot of the bright metoer that streaked across southwestern Ontario on March 18, 2014 as captured by special all-sky camera monitors. Credit: University of Western Ontario

This is a shot of the bright meteor that streaked across southwestern Ontario on March 18, 2014 as captured by special all-sky camera monitors. Credit: University of Western Ontario

On Tuesday, March 18 at 10:24 pm EDT a super-bright fireball lit up southwestern Ontario skies.

Here is a photo captured by Univ. Western Ontario all-sky camera of the meteor event. Researchers now estimate it was a meteor the size of a basketball that entered Earth`s atmosphere. The cosmic intruder spend about 5 seconds traveling through North American skies before the air pressure pulverized it. Meteor experts say this is the first time in a half decade that such a bright event happened in Ontario.

The space rock most likely fragmented with pieces probably making it to the ground. Now the hunt is on for meteorites just 5 km NW of St. Thomas, Ontario. According to researchers the odds of finding a fragment of the meteor are small since it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack but the general public has the best shot.

Stay tuned for more details as they are made available.


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Glimpse Giant Asteroid Glide Through Taurus

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 6, 2014 – 4:22 pm -

A giant asteroid, first seen 110 years ago, is making a rare appearance for backyard astronomers this month.

Usually so far away from Earth that only very large telescopes can spot it, 532 Herculina will be coming closer to Earth than usual, thereby allowing small backyard scopes to observe it as it sails through the horns of Taurus, the bull constellation in the evening skies.  Making the hunt even easier, the 230 km wide space rock will be gliding past a naked-eye star this week and then a famous supernova remnant- the Crab nebula.

Path of asteroid Herculina within Taurus Constellation in February 2014

Path of asteroid Herculina within Taurus Constellation in February 2014

Despite its high asteroid number – referring to the order of its discovery – Herculina probably ranks in the top 10 in terms of mass. The giant rock has also been at a center of a mystery surrounding the possibility of it having an orbiting satellite asteroid. Despite multiple observations by amateur astronomers watching Herculina during occultations of stars back in the late 1970’s and 80’s, Hubble Space Telescope failed to find any evidence of a moon when it looked in 1993.

Miss this encounter with Herculina and you will have to wait until 2019.

Check out my full viewer’s guide with finder charts at National Geographic News.


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Eastern Canada Meteor Event Confirmed

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 28, 2013 – 7:10 pm -

If skies would have been clear Tuesday night then skywatchers might have witnessed a bright fireball like this one.

If skies would have been clear Tuesday night then skywatchers might have witnessed a bright fireball like this one.

Yes that loud sonic boom and flash of light in the sky on Tuesday night at 7:47 pm EST was indeed a meteor racing across the southern Ontario, eastern Quebec region.

Prof.Peter Brown, a leading expert on meteor physics at the University of Western Ontario reports that infrasonic microphones, part of the USArray network of seismological detectors across the continent detected the series of shockwaves produced by the break up of the meteor as it traveled at supersonic speeds across the region.

“From a very casual examination of the records from five of these stations, it appears the fireball went roughly north-south passing almost right over the Island of Montreal,” said Brown in an email statement.

According to the data, the meteor had energy- on the order of less than a ton of TNT at most, indicating that the space rock might have weighed in the tens of kilograms category, explained Brown.

In comparison, the Russian meteor event in February measured some 20 meters across and had enerrgy equivalent of more than 500 kilotons of TNT.


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Possible Meteor Rattles Ontario-Quebec Skies

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 27, 2013 – 12:16 am -

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Folks from Ottawa, Ontario through Laval, Quebec are reporting a blue flash of light followed by a sonic boom that occurred around 7:50 pm ET, November 26th.

This may be signs of a meteor event and could indicate the stone – which could be anywhere in size from a sofa to compact car- may have fragmented with some bits making it to the ground.  Scientists will comb through all the observation reports along with any photo and video evidence so that they can triangulate the trajectory of the possible meteor fall.

Thankfully this appears to be a minor event since there are no reports of any damage -not like what we saw earlier this year occur in Siberia where a 20 meter wide, 60 ton space rock exploded in the atmosphere and injured 1500.


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King Tut Connection to Ancient Comet Crash

Written by The Night Sky Guy on November 12, 2013 – 5:30 pm -

This is an artists rendition of the comet exploding in Earths atmosphere above Egypt.

This is an artist's rendition of the comet exploding in Earth's atmosphere above Egypt.

In the Sahara, a team of scientists claim to have found the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth.

About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600°F (2000°C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara.

Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen.

Read the rest of my comet story at National Geographic News.


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