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Not Your Average Meteor Shower

By Terry Eliasen, Executive Weather Producer, WBZ
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Credit: B. E. Schmidt and S. C. Radcliffe of UCLA

Credit: B. E. Schmidt and S. C. Radcliffe of UCLA

A few times each year you will see the WBZ Weather Team talking about how and when you can see a meteor shower. They are basically annual events, happening around the same dates each year. Some better than others due to various circumstances such as moonlight, cloud cover and the actual source of the meteors.
Most meteor showers come from comets. As they pass through our “neighborhood” of the universe, little bits of dust and debris get left behind and some enter our atmosphere as “shooting stars” or meteors.
The Geminid Meteor Shower, which occurs each December around this time (including tonight) is truly an odd-ball occurrence. This is because the meteors do not emanate from a comet but from a weird rocky object named 3200 Phaethon.
This 98lb object was discovered by NASA scientists back in 1983 and classified as an asteroid. It has no tail, an orbit which intersects the main asteroid belt and even has the coloring of your typical run of the mill asteroid.
So how is it that we are getting so much debris to enter our atmosphere from a floating rock? Scientists truly do not know! The rock does receive a blast of solar heat frequently which scientists believe could eject some dust, but only a very small amount. Not nearly enough to account for the very large stream of debris that currently exists in its wake. In fact the debris field from 3200 Phaethon is by far the most massive of all the other debris fields left by “regular” comets. A true mystery of science.
We can expect as many as 100 meteors per hour in the skies tonight, especially after midnight when the Moon is low and the constellation Gemini is high overhead. The one caveat, the weather…skies will not be clear, some cloudiness is expected.

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