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View From Mars Hill: Geminid Meteor Shower

13 Dec 2018, 20:37 UTC
View From Mars Hill: Geminid Meteor Shower
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One of the old reliables of the night sky—the Geminid Meteor Shower—is now making its annual visit. Active for around a dozen days in December, it will peak on the night December 13/14. The Moon will then be near its first quarter phase, rising at noon and setting a little after 11 p.m. This means that, away from city lights, the sky will be dark when the shower peaks at up to 120 meteors per hour just after midnight.
On any given night, random meteors occur when celestial debris sporadically enters Earth’s atmosphere. Meteor showers are more predictable, typically include numerous meteors rather than a random few, and are usually linked to comets. When comets come close to the Sun, ices on the surface vaporize and stream away from the comet. Dust and other small particles are carried along with the gases. Over time this material spreads out over the entire orbital path of the comet. If Earth’s orbit happens to intersect the orbit of the comet, Earth can sweep up these particles which burn up in our atmosphere, resulting in the dramatic streaks of light interchangeably known as shooting stars, falling stars, and meteors. In fact, many meteor showers ...

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