While space experts are predicting a grand performance from the annual Geminid meteor shower this week– thanks in large measure to the moon being a no show – there may be an extra skywatching surprise.
Russian astronomer Mikail Maslov has come up with computer models that are predicting a never-before-seen meteor shower peaking the same time the Geminids! If his calculations are on the mark – observers may see rates of about 30 meteors per hour – on top of the 100 or so per hour from the Geminids on Dec.13th – making this potentially quite a cosmic fireworks show.
The source of this new shower is the Comet Wirtanen, discovered back in 1948. This icy visitor has a 5 year orbit around the Sun and continually sheds material from it surface whenever it approaches. This debris has spread out in a stream that follows the comet’s path and now these new predictions indicate that Earth will be crossing as many as 4 times through this cometary debris trail from Dec.10 to Dec.14. Like with other meteor showers, when these sand-grain sized particles hit our planet’s atmosphere at high speed they get ionized in a momentary streak of light across the skies.
Keen-eyed meteor watchers will be able to tell Geminids and these new shooting stars apart by the place in the sky they each appear to radiate out from. While the Geminids appear to originate from their namesake constellation Gemini, these new meteors will streak out from the constellation Pisces. Best time to look out for these new ‘Piscid’ (yet to be officially named) meteors is in th early evening around 8 pm local time this week. Meanwhile the Geminids will really kick-in later in the nights, into the predawn hours of Dec.14.
Will this new shower pan out? No one can say for sure, but the only way to know is to head outside and look up.
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.