Meteor Shower Report Plus A Hubble Bauble

John Chumack recorded over 120 meteors on his video camera last night between 8 p.m. and 6:45 a.m. from his home in Dayton, Ohio. He composited 13 of the brightest into this single image. "Many were very bright, magnitude -3 or better," said Chumack.

“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.

Meteors or not, you couldn't miss the first quarter moon and Jupiter. In the foreground is the big Christmas tree in Duluth's Bentleyville display in Bayfront Park. Photo: Bob King

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!

The supernova remnant SNR 0509 appears like a delicate glass ornament. Its true nature involves the death of star. Click image for a larger version. Credit: NASA/ESA/ Hubble Heritage Team

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.

My #10 Geminid flashed shortly before midnight next to Sirius (lower left) below Orion. It looks like a scratch in the photo, but to the eye, it was bright. Photo: Bob King

7 Responses

  1. Donna Schroeder

    What was that in the sky this morning at 7:30? On our way to work, in the southeast sky over the Lake & No. WI we saw one very large pink ball with a long tail dropping slowly toward earth. A smaller version appeared a little later more toward the east. We were thinking they might have been meteors. The picture, against the early morning sky, would have been lovely…but my camera was at home. Did anyone else see them?

    1. astrobob

      Donna, I may have seen some of this as I was in town at 7:30. Was it possibly dawn-lit puffs of lake fog curling up from the water? I saw one pink puff in the southeast about that time. My best guess anyway. They probably weren’t meteors because the sky was so bright and meteors move very quickly.

  2. Mike

    Hi Bob, Do you recall your settings for the two photos in the Wed online Trib? Just a camera or attached to a telescope? Thanks.

    Merry Christmas to you and those you love!

    1. astrobob

      Mike, if you mean the #10 Geminid photo, I shot it with a 35mm lens at f/2.8, 30-second exposure, ISO 800. No telescope used. What was the other photo you’re referring to?

  3. john

    What planet am I seeing in the early morning eastern sky viewed from Superior, WI?

    What object is visible in the vicinity of the earth’s moon early in the evening?

    Both questions are as viewed with the naked eye.

    1. astrobob

      Hi John, the bright morning “star” is Venus (read today’s blog). The bright evening “star” is Jupiter.

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