Dress warmly for ‘shoot­ing star’ show this week

North Penn Life - - Opinion -

Most peo­ple have never seen a “shoot­ing star.”

This week might be the best op­por­tu­nity to see ob­jects leave a glow­ing trail from so­lar sys­tem fire­works that are vis­i­ble from your back­yard or side­walk.

There’s no need to travel be­yond your house although you’ll see more if you’re in the dark sub­urbs. And the good news is you don’t need binoc­u­lars or a tele­scope.

Usu­ally comets loop around the so­lar sys­tem leav­ing a trail of comet dust and de­bris. Some of th­ese form thick ar­eas of de­bris and once a year the Earth, on which we live, plows through that ce­les­tial de­bris caus­ing our at­mos­phere to heat and ig­nite the pieces re­sult­ing in fire­works above us that lasts a few sec­onds.

Amaz­ingly, the de­bris in a me­teor show­ers con­sists of par­ti­cles the size of a grain of sand but, from our view­point 60 to 100 miles be­low, when th­ese pieces ig­nite they ap­pear white, some­times yel­low and rarely red, green or blue. They are flashes of light last­ing a sec­ond or two.

Although Thurs­day night start­ing about 10 p. m. and last­ing for hours into Fri­day morn­ing is the best time to see the great­est num­ber of th­ese, they are usu­ally vis­i­ble for sev­eral nights be­fore and af­ter Thurs­day.

This week’s shoot­ing stars are dif­fer­ent from the other me­teor streams. Known as the Gem­i­nids, the stream of de­bris was a rel­a­tively re­cent find mak­ing an ap­pear­ance over a cen­tury ago dur­ing the 1860s and not coming from a comet.

A me­teor shower is named af­ter a con­stel­la­tion and the bright star of the con­stel­la­tion from which the meteors seem to ra­di­ate. In this case, the shower is named af­ter the con­stel­la­tion, Gemini.

What is dif­fer­ent in the Gemini shower is it seems to come from a huge boul­der lo­cated be­tween Mars and Jupiter. The Gemini shower has got­ten brighter through the 20th cen­tury. The source of the shower is an as­ter­oid known as 3200 Phaeth- on. Pieces of 3200 Phaethon may have bro­ken off over the years and sim­ply floated past us.

To ob­serve the Gem­i­nids, wear a heavy coat and hat, bring a blan­ket, and place a beach chair out­side where you can see the night­time sky. Place your chair fac­ing east and gaze at the sky. Chances are the first time you see a me­teor, you’ll be so ex­cited you won’t be sure you saw it.

Some­times the flashes of light come alone and other times sev­eral at a time. Be proud of your­self if you saw a flash of light trav­el­ing ap­prox­i­mately 36,000 mph and 50 to 100 miles up!

Re­mem­ber it is only the size of a piece of sand and th­ese burn up and won’t come down to hurt you.

No­tice that shoot­ing stars or fall­ing stars have noth­ing to do with stars.

Once you have seen a piece from a me­teor, you’ll never for­get it. Next Oct. 20 or 21, you can look for the Ori­onid Me­teor Shower. This is an­other trail of de­bris that the Earth plows through.

It is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it is de­bris from Hal­ley’s Comet. That fa­mous comet was last here in 1986 and will re­turn in 2061. When you see the so­lar sys­tem fire­works, you may be see­ing a piece of a comet or this week, a piece of an as­ter­oid.

Bun­dle up and stay warm while look­ing at pieces as old as the so­lar sys­tem..

Keep in mind that this so­lar sys­tem show will take you back in time, and its free.

Health & Sci­ence Dr. Mil­ton Fried­man

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