LOOK UP! WHAT’S IN THE NIGHT SKY? BY MICK GROSZKO, GUEST COLUMNIST
Most meteor showers result from the earth’s orbit passing through the orbit of a comet which leaves a trail of debris in its path.
Every year, in December, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon.
This asteroid has an orbit that brings it very close to the sun where intense thermal fracturing causes this rocky body to crack and crumble, and to shed rubble into its orbital stream.
Annually, at this time of year, the debris from 3200 Phaethon crashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 130,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) per hour, to vaporize as colorful Geminid meteors.
The peak nights of the 2015 Geminid meteor shower are expected to be on December 13-14 (night of December 13 till dawn December 14) and 14-15 (night of December 14 till dawn December 15).
Geminid meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening, but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night.
The waxing crescent moon will set at early evening, leaving dark skies for this year’s Geminid meteor shower.
Geminid meteors are bright!
The Geminid meteors appear to radiate from near the star Castor in the constellation Gemini.
You need no special equipment–just a dark, open sky and maybe a sleeping bag to keep warm.
Plan to sprawl back in a hammock, lawn chair, pile of hay or blanket on the ground. Lie down in comfort, and look upward.
The Headlands Dark Sky Park will be having a program titled “Catch a falling star during the Geminids”. Programs will be held both Saturday to
Sunday, Dec. 12-13 and Sunday to Monday, Dec. 13-14, beginning at 9 p.m.
Both nights and will include refreshments and bonfire, with both indoor and outdoor access.
There is a procession of bright visible planets rising in the east during the early morning hours.
First mighty Jupiter rises just before midnight.
It is a beautiful sight with its four bright moons through binoculars.
Next, the red planet Mars comes over the horizon at about 2:00 AM.
The brightest “star” of the show is Venus which will make its appearance about three hours before sunrise.
Venus is the bright object you see in the early morning. And lastly, Saturn pokes above the horizon about an hour before sunrise.
Another target for your binocular viewing pleasure is the comet Catalina in the constellation Virgo.
It made its closest point to the sun (perihelion) on Nov. 15th, and is now on its way back out to interstellar space never to return.
It is about magnitude 5 so it is quite dim and will probably require binoculars or a telescope. This is also an object for you early risers.
There will not be a Northern Michigan Astronomy Club (NOMAC) meeting in December but we will meet again in January.
Mick Groszko is an amateur astronomer and astrophotographer in the Petoskey area and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org