Meteoric Mysteries

The Geminids are coming! The Geminids are coming! The most intense meteor shower of the year peaks on December 13th and 14th.

Most meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris trail of a comet. But not the Geminids:

The parent is not a comet but a weird rocky object named 3200 Phaethon that sheds very little dusty debris—not nearly enough to explain the Geminids.

“Of all the debris streams Earth passes through every year, the Geminids’ is by far the most massive,” says Cooke. “When we add up the amount of dust in the Geminid stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500.”

This makes the Geminids the 900-lb gorilla of meteor showers. Yet 3200 Phaethon is more of a 98-lb weakling.

Geminid Meteor Shower Defies Explanation – NASA Science

That eccentric orbit of that rocky body brings it closer to the Sun than Mercury every 1.4 years. A solar blast might knock enough debris from its surface to account for the meteor display. Except it doesn’t. “Every new thing we learn about the Geminids,” says NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, “seems to deepen the mystery.”

So get your lead umbrellas ready for Tuesday the 14th, around midnight. And as cold as it is, I still recommend champagne for the occasion. You need sparkling wine for a sparkling sky.

Hat tip: SpaceWeather.com

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