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meteors

Geminids in the northern hemisphere by Asim Patel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via commons.wikimedia.org

The Geminid meteor shower is a very reliable annual meteor shower that will visit us again this week.

The next several nights are probably the best nights for watching with the peak morning is likely to be December 14, 2018, but the morning of December 13 might offer a good display, too, and meteor watchers have been catching Geminids for some nights now.

You can watch in the late evening, but the best viewing hours are typically around 2 a.m., no matter where you are on Earth. And this year there will only be a waxing crescent moon, so moonlight won’t wash out the darkness.

The meteors appear to come from (radiate from) the constellation Gemini, which rises around sunset and moves overhead into morning. The best views are usually between midnight and 4am.

The Geminids are slow-moving dust particles when they hit the Earth’s atmosphere. “Slow” is relative here – they are only moving at 22 miles per second. The friction with air molecules will burn them up and make a nice glow for us to watch.

These showers are caused by the object 3200 Phaethon, which is an asteroid. That is unusual and this is one of the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet. This asteroid has an orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid. And that is how the asteroid got its name.

Phaeton

Gustave Moreau: Fall of Phaéton (Chute de Phaéton) watercolor study, via Wikimedia

Phaethon is a name from mythology.  Phaethon was the Ancient Greek name for the planet Jupiter, a planet whose motions and cycles were observed by the ancients and often used in poetry and myth.

In mythology, Phaethon’s father was the sun god Helios who granted his son’s wish to drive the sun chariot for a day.  Phaethon was unable to control the horses and to prevent the chariot from hitting and destroying Earth, Zeus knocked it out of the sky with a thunderbolt. Phaethon fell to earth and was killed.

Of course, meteors are not falling stars, and they are not coming from the chariot of the Sun, but it does make for a good story.

 

The Taurid meteor shower is upon us and there are some who say that there is evidence to suggest Earth is at greater risk than we thought of being hit by an asteroid associated with these meteors. Don’t worry. A new swarm of meteoroids – icy space debris left behind by a comet – are related to the Taurid meteor stream.

Three giant asteroids will pass Earth tomorrow, but NASA has not warned or alerted anyone. Asteroid 2018 VX1 was discovered November 4. It will pass about 381,000 kilometres away from Earth, which is 3,000 kilometres closer than our Moon’s average distance from us. And there are two more asteroids in the neighborhood Saturday.

It may sound dangerously close but as some news reports have said “all the planets in our solar system, including Pluto, can fit between Earth and the moon. So there is a lot of room out there.”

Don’t panic. It’s not Vogons wanting to demolish Earth in order to build a bypass for an intergalactic highway. But, just in case, have a beer, some peanuts, and carry a towel.

 

Artist’s depiction of a near-Earth object. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)A

Keep an eye on the live video from on board and let us know if you spot any aliens.

That Tesla roadster out in space will, like an asteroid, make its first close pass of Earth in 2091. I don’t think I’ll be around for that event, so I’ll post now.

After that pass by Earth, scientists say it has a 50 percent chance of continuing to orbit for a few tens of millions of years. Eventually, it will collide with a planet or fall into the Sun. If it makes it back to Earth, the atmosphere will burn up most of it before it hits the ground.

For now, it is safely on its way out past Mars, playing David Bowie to deaf, airless ears. It also carries on its dashboard screen the always appropriate message to Earthlings and anyone else who might encounter it: Don’t panic.

 

An asteroid called 2018 CC made its closest approach to Earth on Tuesday, February 6, at 3:10 p.m. EST. Coincidentally, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket went up about a half hour later, sending a Tesla car with a Starman mannequin at the wheel off into the asteroid belt.

Another larger visitor named asteroid 2018 CB will pass by Earth today, February 9, at around 5:30 p.m. EST. It is between 50 and 130 feet (15 and 40 meters) and will pass Earth at a distance of 39,000 miles (64,000 km). It will be five times closer to us than the Moon.

It is not the gigantic asteroids of movies, but it is probably larger than the asteroid that entered the atmosphere over Russia, almost exactly five years ago. On February 15, 2013, a near-Earth asteroid of roughly 65-feet (20-meters) exploded as it entered the atmosphere, and the shockwave caused damage to over 7,200 building and injured nearly 1,500 people from shattered glass.

It didn’t even hit the Earth. Imagine what it would have caused if it did hit our planet. It is the stuff of movies. For now.

Not all visitors to this website probably share my fascination with celestial things like stars, planets and our Moon. But I like to pay attention to that vast and still unexplored space beyond.

Here is a current example. Ceres will be closest to Earth for 2018 on February 1. To ask what Ceres is would make a good trivia question for HQ. (* If you sign up to play this currently hot trivia game app – IOS or Android –  put my username in – ronkowitz – so I get a much-needed extra life!) 

Ceres

Dwarf planet Ceres. The color is added to highlight differences in surface materials. Photo: NASA

Ceres is a tiny world, but the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. It was the first member of the asteroid belt to be discovered back in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi.

Ceres became the first dwarf planet to receive a visit from a spacecraft, Dawn, in 2015.

It was classified as asteroid for many years, but it is so much bigger and different from its rocky neighbors that scientists classified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. Remember all the outcry when Pluto got pushed to dwarf planet status and out of the planet list we all learned in school? Ceres is sometimes compared in size to the state of Texas, but Pluto is still 14 times more massive than Ceres.

Ceres hasn’t been this close since 2009 and on February 1, 2018 it will shine its brightest. But it still won’t be visible with the naked eye. A telescope or even good binoculars will bring it into focus. But the Moon will also be bright that night, so it is suggested that if you are going to look for Ceres, you try tonight or at the end of next week.

I don’t plan to look for Ceres tucked inside the constellation Cancer. I am quite happy to know that it is up there in the asteroid belt. That belt consists of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of tiny worlds circling the sun in between Mars and Jupiter.

This is the kind of thing that is truly awesome and wonderful to me. Knowing that all of this is out there, and also not knowing so much of what is out there.

The stars appear fixed relative to one another, but Ceres will move moving noticeably westward in front of the stars that make up the constellation Cancer. That movement was how that Italian monk, Giuseppe Piazzi, discovered it. He saw it in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull, but because it moved relative to the backdrop stars, he knew it was a solar system object and not a star. he thought it might be a comet.

Piazzi originally suggested the name Cerere Ferdinandea for his discovery, after the goddess Ceres (Roman goddess of agriculture and where we get our word cereal). She is Cerere in Italian and was believed to have originated in Sicily where the oldest temple for her was located. Added to that was a nod to King Ferdinand of Sicily, but “Ferdinandea” was not acceptable to other nations and was dropped. Ceres was called Hera for a short time in Germany, and in Greece, it is called Demeter, who is the Greek equivalent of the Roman Cerēs. there is also a asteroid called 1108 Demeter.

More at solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/ceres/ and wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceres

A small asteroid is currently hurtling toward Earth, but NASA says there is really is nothing to worry about. But it will come close.

Asteroid 2013 TX68 is expected to pass us next weekend on March 5.

It might pass us a distance of 9 million miles (14 million km) which is pretty safe since that 35 times farther away than our Moon. But it could come as close as 11,000 miles (17,000 km) which is much closer (by 50%) of the altitude that our geosynchronous satellites orbit.

Why all this imprecision with scientists? Not enough data. The asteroid was discovered and last seen in 2013 and scientists were only able to gather data on it for three days before it passed in front of the sun and was lost in glare.

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