“Colours swish by in cloudy darkened night sky meteor shower- satellites in midnight dance a universal display”
What is a Meteor?
A meteor is a meteoroid – or a suspended particle of an asteroid or comet orbiting the Sun – that burns up as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, creating the effect of a “shooting star”. Meteoroids that reach the Earth’s surface without deteriorating are called meteorites.
Where do they come from?
Meteors are mainly pieces of comet dust no larger than a grain of rice. Meteorites are mainly rocks broken off asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and can weigh as much as 60 tonnes.
Why can we see them?
When Meteors get in the Earth’s atmosphere from space, the friction caused by air particles heats them so that they glow, leaving behind them a trail of gas and melted particles as they break up 30 to 60 miles from the ground. Most glow for about a second, but others leave a stream that lasts for several minutes.
The Source of the Ursids Meteors
The Ursids are produced by dust grains left afterwards by comet 8P/Tuttle, which was first discovered in 1790. Comets continually shed dust and stones as they fly around the Sun, and it is this debris along Tuttle’s path that gives rise to the Ursids. As the debris hits Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, it heats up and falls apart in flashes of light that we call meteors. The radiant point for the Ursids is right next to Ursa Minor, often known as the Little Dipper.
December Meteor Shower
The Ursids meteor shower is active yearly between December 17 and December 24. The shower generally peaks around December 23. At its peak, viewers may be able to view as many as 10 meters in an hour.
How to watch the Ursids
The Ursids are named after the constellation Ursa Minor as this is the direction from which they appear to arise. While the meteors become visible from this point they can be best seen 30 degrees away from Ursa Minor, extending across large sections of the sky.
This minor meteor shower generates about 5-10 meteors per hour, but this year could be a good show if the skies are perfectly clear.
You don’t need any special tools or a lot of skills to view a meteor shower. Even though all you really need is a clear sky, lots of tolerance. The Ursid meteor shower is normally a smaller meteor shower, generating only around 10 meteors per hour. However, it has been known to produce as many as 100 meteors per hour during a good year.
Best viewing will be 21-22 December between the middle of the night and dawn.