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.
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!