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Friday, 12 December 2014


BAA electronic bulletin


The Geminid meteor shower is now underway, with peak activity expected
throughout the coming weekend..

The Geminids are the richest of the annual meteor showers, with rates
outstripping those of the Perseids for a 24-hour interval centred on their
14 December maximum. The peak this year coincides with a last quarter Moon
in Virgo, so there should be comparatively little interference by moonlight
even during the early morning hours. The highest observed rates are most
likely during the night of December 13/14, particularly in the pre-dawn
hours of Sunday, December 14, and conveniently during a weekend.

This year, Geminid maximum is expected at around 07h on Sunday, 14th
December, when the peak Geminid Zenithal Hourly Rate may reach 120 m/h.
There is the added bonus of an increased proportional abundance of bright
events after maximum; past observations show that bright Geminids become
more numerous some hours after the rates have peaked, a consequence of
particle-sorting in the meteor stream.

The Geminid maximum is quite broad so it is important to have a spread of
observers making observations throughout the nights of 12th/13th, 13th/14th
and on 14th/15th December to ensure adequate coverage of the shower maximum.
In addition, observations by BAA members in North America and the Far East
will be welcomed by the Meteor Section to improve coverage of the period of
peak shower activity.

The Geminid radiant (at RA 07h 32m Dec +33o, just north of Castor) rises
early in the evening and reaches a respectable altitude well before
midnight, so observers who are unable to stay up late can still contribute
useful watches.

Meteor showers are supposed to come from periodic comets, yet there is no
very short period comet that matches the orbit of the Geminid meteoroid
stream. Instead, the orbit of the Geminids is occupied by an object called
3200 Phaethon, which looks remarkably like a rocky asteroid. A group of
astronomers led by David Jewitt of UCLA have been using NASA's STEREO probes
to take a closer look at 3200 Phaethon when it passes closest to the Sun. In
2010 one of the STEREO probes recorded a doubling of Phaethon's brightness
as it approached the Sun, as if sunlight were shining through a cloud of
dust around the asteroid.

The observers began to suspect 3200 Phaethon was something new - a "rock
comet" which is, essentially, an asteroid that approaches so close to the
Sun that solar heating scorches dusty debris right off its rocky surface
forming a tail of rocky grains. Seeing 3200 Phaethon sprout a tail, even a
small one, provides some confidence that Phaethon is indeed the source of
the Geminids - but a mystery remains: How can such a stubby protuberance
produce such a grand meteor shower? Only time and further continued
observations may provide the answer.

Geminid meteors enter the atmosphere at a relatively slow 35 km/sec, and
thanks to their robust (rocky/asteroidal as opposed to dusty/cometary)
nature tend to last longer than most in luminous flight. Unlike swift
Perseid or Orionid meteors, which last only a few tenths of a second,
Geminids may be visible for a second or longer, sometimes appearing to
fragment into a train of 'blobs'. Their relatively low speed and the
abundance of bright events makes the Geminids a prime target for imaging.

For further information, or copies of report forms, observing notes, and
details of how to carry out group meteor watches, please visit the BAA
Meteor Section website at

This e-bulletin issued by:

John W. Mason, Director, BAA Meteor Section

2014 December 10

BAA-ebulletin mailing list visit:
(c) 2014 British Astronomical Association

Good Clear Skies
Colin James Watling
Various Voluntary work-Litter Picking for Parish Council (Daytime) and
also a friend of Kessingland Beach (Watchman)
Real Astronomer and head of the Comet section for LYRA (Lowestoft and
Great Yarmouth Regional Astronomers) also head of K.A.G (Kessingland
Astronomy Group) and Navigator (Astrogator) of the Stars (Fieldwork)
Lyra Main Website:

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