Hoping for lots of presents this Christmas? Then you may want to glance up at the skies this Thursday and Friday. That's because if researchers are right, on December 13th and 14th you will be treated to a flurry of 'shooting' stars. What's even more interesting is that one will emanate from an asteroid, the other from a comet
The first and the ones that researchers are confident about are the annual Geminid showers. Set to peak on Thursday night, these are not only the year's last meteor showers, but also, the biggest and brightest. Not only can they be seen from anywhere in the world, but also, do not need, any special telescopes or binoculars to watch.
What's most interesting about the Geminid meteor showers is that they are not a debris stream from a comet, as is usually the case, but an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon. As to what causes the debris is a mystery, that scientists are still trying to solve.
One theory is that the 3-mile wide 3200 Phaethon was once part of a bigger asteroid called Pallas, and that the showers might be debris from the breakup. However, while icy comets, the source of other meteor showers like the Perseids, have been known to leave behind a trail when they get closer to the solar system and get heated up, asteroids are not known to leave debris behind.
This has led some researchers to speculate that 3200 Phaethon may be part of a new category of space objects that scientists plan to classify as 'rock' comets - Essentially, an asteroid that comes so close to the sun during its orbit that it gets scorched and sheds some gravel debris that turn into 'shooting stars' or meteor showers when they come in contact with the Earth's atmosphere. But, when this phenomenon was investigated, the scientists found that the debris generated was not enough to create the spectacular meteor show that we witness year after year.
Whatever the reason, the result is an amazing celestial annual treat for all of us! And because they are rock debris, they are more durable and can survive even in the lower atmosphere, which is why, they are so clearly visible.
In case these are not enough for your wish list then you may be in luck. That's because astronomers believe that comet Wirtanen may also be making its meteor shower debut on the same day. Though this celestial body has skirted around Earth a number of times it has ever come close enough to allow its debris to interact with our atmosphere. However, if computer models run by Russian forecaster Mihail Maslov prove to be correct, then 2012 will be different.
Maslov believes that between December 10th and December 14th, we may experience as many as 4 streams from this new comet - The strongest? On December 13th, the same night as the peak of the Geminid showers. What's even better is that these meteors are expected to move slower than the Geminids, which means there is more time to catch them and make those wishes. So be sure to drop whatever you are doing, especially on the night of Thursday, December 13th and watch what maybe a very rare double feature!
Resources: science.NASA.gov, examiner.com,CBSnews.com