Geminid meteor shower set for clear skies

Something to watch out for Monday and Tuesday….

Powered by article titled “Geminid meteor shower set for clear skies” was written by Steven Morris, for The Guardian on Sunday 12th December 2010 14.35 UTC

Lovers of the night sky could be in for a treat tomorrow night as clear conditions are predicted for one of the best astronomical shows of the year.

Some experts believe the annual Geminid meteor shower is becoming more spectacular – though if it is, nobody is sure why – and with cloudless skies possible in many parts of the country, this year’s event could be a particularly memorable one.

At its peak and in a clear, dark sky, up to 100 meteors – or shooting stars – may be seen every hour. The best time to see it is expected to be late on Monday night and in the early hours of Tuesday after the moon has set.

In comparison with other showers, Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly, at about 22 miles per second. They are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.

Meteors are the result of small particles entering Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and super-heating the air around them, which shines as a characteristic short-lived streak of light. In the case of the Geminids, the debris is associated with the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.

National Trust list of the best places to watch the shower

• Black Down in Sussex, the highest point in the South Downs.

• Teign Valley in Devon, within Dartmoor national park.

• Penbryn Beach, on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales.

• Stonehenge area in Wiltshire – chalk downland and crystal clear skies.

• Wicken Fen nature reserve in Cambridgeshire – dark skies and nocturnal wildlife.

• Mam Tor in Derbyshire, an escape from the bright lights of cities such as Sheffield.

• Friar’s Crag in Cumbria, jutting out into Derwentwater.

This article was amended on 13 December 2010. The original time-lapse image appeared to show the tracks of stars not meteors. It has been replaced. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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