Yet another meteor shower coming Thursday?

Meteors from the new shower, if any, would emerge from a radiant in the constellation Pisces located directly below the Square of Pegasus. This view shows the sky looking south around 6-7 p.m. local time this week. Credit: NASA

NASA Science News just put out a press release about a possible new meteor shower that will light up the skies the same time as this week’s Geminids. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have a parent comet – 46P/Wirtanen.

“Dust from this comet hitting Earth’s atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour,” said Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

Combined with the Geminids, this Thursday night could be the best meteor-watching night of the year. If the shower materializes. Comet Wirtanen orbits every 5.4 years, reaching its closest point to the sun just inside Earth’s orbit. We’ve come close to the bits of dust and rock released by the comet, but have never entered the stream directly.

Dust released by Comet Wirtanen, seen as the yellow-green colors, is released along the comet’s orbit. Some of it may show up as meteors Thursday night. Credit: Max-Planck-Institut for Aeronomie, courtesy T. Credner, J. Jockers, T.Bonev . Click for more information.

Computer models run by Russian forecaster Mikhail Maslov show that this time we very well might. He predicts as many as four stream crossings between Dec. 10th and 14th. The best time is Thursday night (same as the Geminids) but earlier, at nightfall.

You’ll be able to tell the potential new shower meteors apart from the smattering of early-evening Geminids by their much slower speed and direction. Any “Piscids” will radiate from Pisces high in the southern sky, while the Geminids will track back to the eastern sky.

This is all very exciting news. Two good meteor showers on the same night?  Looks like we’ll be putting sleep on the back burner again!

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

25 thoughts on “Yet another meteor shower coming Thursday?

  1. Hi Bob
    I seen the beautiful crescent moon and Venus this morning, just before 7am UK, so thanks I’m learning and all thanks to you, and get some sleep lol :-)

  2. Hi bob
    Regarding the doomsday hoopla. I’ve heard a new theory. Something about earth being engulfed in a photon belt, and a spiritual movement? Any thoughts or words on this, sounds dumb but I’d like to hear what you think.

    • Doug,
      To be honest, it sounds like more goofy stuff to me. Spiritual movements are fine I suppose, and people can start those for whatever reason they like. No, no photon belts are coming, unless that’s a fancy way of saying “sunshine”. Since all the doomsday scenarios are mostly based on hyperventilating, I pay them little heed. Members of our species have been forecasting the end of the world for thousands of years for cash, personal gain or just pure paranoia. Seems like we’re all still hear despite the shouting.

  3. Hi Bob,
    While setting up the scope to look for Toutatis this evening, I looked over towards Pisces (where Toutatis is) and saw a slow, southbound, second magnitude meteor, coming straight from the new radiant. A “Wirtanini d” meteor??? I think so! So I went bback inside to check the star chart, and coming back outside five minutes later saw a first-magnitude Geminid right overhead. So then I found Toutatis, tracked it for ten minutes (easy to find, the motion was noticeable after a few seconds), and brought everything back inside. Now I’m going to bed. I’m not the least bit tempted to stay out all night – it’s 22 degress, with a measured peak wind gust of 74 mph that made it real hard to keep the 12-inch scope pointed to the west. And the star images are about the size of Jupiter, with all the turbulence.
    Good night!

  4. Hi Bob,
    It was a beautiful clear night last night in St. Louis. I am still only at the binocular level in my sky gazing, but am hooked on viewing Jupiter’s moons, Andromeda, and viewable star clusters. I was finally able to locate M81 – so that was a success.

    I was out only 20 minutes or so and saw 2 really nice Geminid meteors. I hope this portends a really good night on the 12th.

    Any recommendations for a camera that can be used for taking night sky photos?

    Thanks,
    Tim

    • Hi Timothy,
      Thanks for sharing your night. The higher-end cameras have much better sensors. I think something like a Canon Rebel or better. Point and shoot cameras can do fine with the crescent moon and bright planets in twilight but not so great with time exposures of constellations in dark skies.

  5. Hi Bob
    Just so I’m sure even though i’ve read everything about it on NASA, asteroid 2011 DA14 will not impact earth next year as some people are saying it is, is this just the next so called news for the doomsayers, thanks Bob :-)

      • Bob & Lynn,
        I played around with JPL Horizons for this little asteroid, 2012 DA14, and around 1930 UT on Feb. 15, 2013, it will pass less than 30,000 km over the Western Pacific and Australia, and will be 7th magnitude – quite bright for an “Earth Grazer”. Here in the central USA it will be no brighter than 12th magnitude.

  6. could the radiant be slightly west of the prediction point.
    I observed 9 meteors between 6:30pm and 7:30 pm last night (EST) that seemed to radiate slightly to west of the predicted spot.

    • Hi Forest,
      Radiant points do move slightly night to night. Which reference radiant did you use and how far west of it did the meteors radiate? Also – I assume you’re referring to the Geminids?

      • no

        these radiated from pisces but nearer to aries and were around the predicted peak for this new shower. I’m pretty much a casual observer. The AMS web site thought a radiant would be centered further east from what I saw. There nine in the hour I observed and all looked similar, not as bright as the Geminids, they sort or resembled the Orionids. Anyone else observe anything at that time period? I had a dark sky with a very thin high cirrus cover.

        • make that further west than what I saw. AMS had the radiant near the small circle of stars in Pisces.
          This was closer to aries but still in Pisces.

          • Forest,
            Thanks for the details. It’s possible since this is a new shower that the calculations were off by some margin. It’s also possible the radiant was broader than expected.

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