Geminid meteor shower set for clear skies

13 12 2010

With cloudless skies possible over Stonehenge and many parts of Britain, this year’s shooting stars could be particularly memorable

Lovers of the night sky could be in for a treat tonight as clear conditions are predicted for one of the best astronomical shows of the year.

Some experts believe the annual Geminid meteor shower is becoming more spectacular – though if it is, nobody is sure why – and with cloudless skies possible in many parts of the country, this year’s event could be a particularly memorable one.

At its peak and in a clear, dark sky, up to 100 meteors – or shooting stars – may be seen every hour. The best time to see it is expected to be late on Monday night and in the early hours of Tuesday after the moon has set.

In comparison with other showers, Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly, at about 22 miles per second. They are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.

Meteors are the result of small particles entering Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and super-heating the air around them, which shines as a characteristic short-lived streak of light. In the case of the Geminids, the debris is associated with the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.

National Trust list of the best places to watch the shower

• Stonehenge area in Wiltshire – chalk downland and crystal clear skies.

 Teign Valley in Devon, within Dartmoor national park.

• Penbryn Beach, on the Ceredigion coast in west Wales.

• Wicken Fen nature reserve in Cambridgeshire – dark skies and nocturnal wildlife.

• Mam Tor in Derbyshire, an escape from the bright lights of cities such as Sheffield.

• Friar’s Crag in Cumbria, jutting out into Derwentwater.

See you at Stonehenge tonight

Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle website


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