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Earthsky Tonight – Dec 19 2009 Ursid meteor shower active the next few nights

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

December 19,2009 Night Sky
December 19, 2009 Night Sky

Some meteor showers, like the Perseids in August, have been watched each year at the same time for many centuries. But the Ursid meteor shower, which peaks in the next day or so, has been observed for only a single century. It was first observed around the turn of the 20th century, when a skywatcher noticed that some meteors seen around this time of year weren’t random in their direction of motion across our sky’s dome… but instead appeared to radiate from near the star Kochab in the bowl of the Little Dipper asterism.

All meteors in annual showers have radiant points on our sky’s dome. . . and the showers take their names from the constellations in which the radiant points lie. The Little Dipper asterism is in the constellation Ursa Minor the Lesser Bear. Hence, the Ursid meteor shower. This shower has been known to produce short bursts of over 100 meteors per hour. But typically the shower is much sparser than that. It might produce only five to 10 meteors per hour at its peak.

If you want to watch the Ursids, find a country location where you can camp tonight or tomorrow night. Dress warmly! And plan to spend several hours reclining under a dark sky, sometime during the night. Today’s chart, by the way, shows the Big and Little Dippers around 1 A.M. when the Big Dipper is well up in the north-northeast.