“Hey, I thought it was supposed to be clear.” Sound familiar? These were the words uttered by meteor watchers in the Duluth area last night. Despite a great forecast for Geminid watching, the sky turned mostly cloudy after 9 p.m. I was grateful for about 45 minutes of partly cloudy sky between 11 and midnight. In that interval, I caught 11 very fast-moving Geminids. You’d have sworn they were hurled from the heavens by Zeus they sped so swiftly. My astro adrenaline really got cranked when four shot off below Orion in the span of five minutes. Of the 11, only one – #10 – managed to leave a track in my camera.
Reports from other regions indicate the shower was excellent with rates of at least one per minute. Observers with the International Meteor Organization spotted more than 80 per hour at peak. I hope you fared well whether you watched the shower from a hot tub or swaddled under 10 pounds of clothing in subzero temperatures. Even if you didn’t spot any meteors, the sight of the moon and Jupiter hanging over the southern sky like sweet fruits on a tree was a fitting consolation prize.
The Geminids are a preview for this month’s biggest astronomical event, a total lunar eclipse on the night of the 20th. We’ll have much more to say on that in the days ahead. Suffice to say, don’t put away your long underwear just yet. You can still watch for additional meteors in the next couple nights as Earth continues moving through the dribs and drabs of Phaethon’s debris.
Just in time for Christmas, the Hubble Space Telescope has photographed a celestial bauble in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy 160,000 light years from Earth visible in the southern hemisphere. What a gem it is!
Called SNR 0509, the bubble formed when material from a supernova explosion four centuries ago was blasted into space on an expanding shock wave. It’s 23 light years across and ballooning outward at over 11 million miles per hour. The bubble’s ethereal appearance belies the violence of its origin. Like Chumack’s photo above, this picture is also a composite. Hubble first photographed the gas cloud in the glowing red light of hydrogen and then combined it with a picture of the surrounding star field taken in visible light.