First-time and long-time meteor showers in forecast
The Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak Thursday night. A 2011 Geminid meteor is shown here.
December 11th, 2012
02:12 PM ET

First-time and long-time meteor showers in forecast

Look to the heavens this week and you may see something no earthling has seen before - meteors from the comet Wirtanen.

The comet was discovered in 1948 and orbits the sun every 5.4 years, but 2012 will mark the first time the Earth's orbit will cross the comet's debris field, possibly producing meteors, according to a NASA press release.

"Dust from this comet hitting Earth's atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said in the release.

The Wirtanen meteor show could come any time between Tuesday and Friday as Earth will cross the comet's tail four times during that span, the NASA release said.

But just because you spot meteors this week, don't think they're automatically from Wirtanen. That's because the Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak Thursday night.

The Geminids, which come around every December, were first observed shortly before the Civil War. They come when the Earth passes through debris from the extinct comet 3200 Phaethon. NASA says an extinct comet is the rock that remains when a comet loses its ice. This meteor shower is called the Geminids because if you trace the path of the meteors, it looks as if they are coming from the constellation Gemini. And that's how you can distinguish these meteors from those that may be the product of Wirtanen. Wirtanen meteors would come from the constellation Pisces.

Cooke also said the meteors from Wirtanen should be visible early in the evening while Geminids should show up later.

Beginning at 11 ET Thursday night, Cooke and other comet experts at will hold an online chat about the meteor showers. NASA will also provide a Ustream feed of the meteor showers. As many as 120 meteors an hour may be visible, NASA said.

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Filed under: In Space • News
Driving on the Moon
December 11th, 2012
11:03 AM ET

Driving on the Moon

"Forty years ago today on Dec. 11, 1972, astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, commander, makes a short checkout of the lunar rover during the early part of the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. This view of the 'stripped down' rover is prior to loading up. Equipment later loaded onto the rover included the ground-controlled television assembly, the lunar communications relay unit, hi-gain antenna, low-gain antenna, aft tool pallet, lunar tools and scientific gear.

This photograph was taken by scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot. The mountain in the right background is the east end of South Massif. While astronauts Cernan and Schmitt descended in the Lunar Module 'Challenger' to explore the moon, astronaut Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules 'America' in lunar orbit."

Source: NASA

Filed under: Light up the screen • the Moon


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