It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for spotting a Geminid meteor! The 2014 Geminid meteor shower is forecast to be a lively meteor shower with great views in the skies over Earth. The week of Dec. 8 is a good window for Geminid-watching, but the night of Dec. 13-14 is the anticipated peak. Best viewing will be in dark sky locations, away from city lights.

Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display.

On Dec. 13, Cooke and a team of astronomers from Marshall Space Flight Center will host an overnight NASA web chat from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. CDT, answering questions about the Geminid meteor shower. The Geminids are expected to peak just before dawn on Dec. 14, with a predicted peak rate of 100 to 120 meteors per hour.

To join the webchat on Dec. 13, log into the chat page at: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids_2013.html

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Fireball Just Southwest of Tuscaloosa, Alabama Seen by All Sky Cameras

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A bright fireball occurred at 8:18 pm CST, Nov. 20, just southwest of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and was detected by NASA All Sky Cameras. The fireball traveled at 67,000 miles per hour and appears to have broken apart at an altitude of 27 miles. It was as bright as the full moon, about 14 inches in diameter and weighed about 120 pounds.

The fireball was not part of the Leonid meteor shower. At this time, we do not believe any meteorites were produced.

This morning there are over 60 eyewitness reports on the American Meteor Society website.YouTube Preview Image

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Brilliant Leonids Meteor Shower Peak Occurs Morning of Nov. 18

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This year’s Leonids meteor shower peaks on the morning of Nov. 18. If forecasters are correct, the shower should produce a mild but pretty sprinkling of meteors. The waning crescent moon will not substantially interfere with viewing the Leonid shower.

“We’re predicting 10 to 15 meteors per hour,” says Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.  “For best viewing, wait until after midnight on Nov. 18, with the peak of the shower occurring just before sunrise.”

Cooke also recommends going to a location away from city lights, dressing warmly, and lie flat on your back and look straight up. No special viewing equipment needed —  just your eyes.

Leonids are bits of debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Every 33 years the comet visits the inner solar system and leaves a stream of dusty debris in its wake. Many of these streams have drifted across the November portion of Earth’s orbit. Whenever our planet hits one, meteors appear to be flying out of the constellation Leo.

A live viewing opportunity is available via Ustream from a telescope at Marshall Space Flight Center. The Ustream feed will be live beginning Monday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m. CST here and will continue until sunrise on Tuesday Nov. 18.

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Fireball Lights Evening Sky Over Tri-State Area

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There was a very bright fireball over middle Tennessee last night, October 20, at 7:57:09 PM CDT. Four NASA all sky cameras, located in Tullahoma, Huntsville, Chickamauga, and North Georgia College, first detected the fireball at an altitude of 54 miles, moving slightly north of west at 47,000 miles per hour. The meteor, estimated to weigh around 10 pounds, travelled some 64 miles through the atmosphere before fragmenting 24 miles above the town of Brentwood, south of Nashville. At its brightest, the fireball rivaled the first quarter Moon, gathering a fair amount of attention in the tri-state area.

The fireball was NOT associated with the Orionid meteor shower, which is currently active. It was moving too slow and coming from the wrong direction.

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Marshall Scientists to Take Questions via Twitter About the Partial Solar Eclipse

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On Thursday, October 23, 2014, from 5:00pm – 6:00pm CDT, Marshall scientists Mitzi Adams, Sabrina Savage and Alphonse Sterling will be taking questions about the partial solar eclipse on the NASA Marshall Twitter account: http://twitter.com/NASA_Marshall, using the hashtag #askNASA.

At approximately 4:54 p.m. CDT, the eclipse will begin, with maximum eclipse occurring at 5:54 p.m. The partial eclipse will end at 6:49 p.m. CDT, which is after 6:02 pm sunset in Huntsville.

The magnitude of this eclipse, that is the fraction of the Sun’s diameter covered by the moon, will be 44%.  The obscuration, or the fraction of the Sun’s area occulted by the moon, will be 32%.The Sun will be in the constellation Virgo, with Saturn low on the horizon after sunset, and Mars will be farther to the east.

A live Ustream feed of the partial solar eclipse will be available here.

Local Viewing Opportunity

Von Braun Astronomical Society (VBAS) is partnering with the U.S. Space & Rocket Center® on Thursday, October 23, 2014, from 5 p.m. until sundown, for the observance of the partial solar eclipse. Join astronomers in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration parking lot to discuss the phenomenon and observe the solar eclipse through the telescopes. There will be visible-light viewing telescopes to see any sunspots, and special telescopes with hydrogen-light viewing in order to see the prominences at the edge of the sun.

The telescopes are equipped with filters for safe viewing of the sun.  Never look at the Sun directly!  Attempting to look directly at the sun without such special filters is harmful to the eyes.
This event is free and open to the public.

 

Bright Meteor Spotted Over Tennessee

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A bright meteor occurred around 5:18 am CDT the morning of September 30th. It was first detected 66 miles above Tennessee City, TN by four NASA All Sky Fireball Network cameras (located in Huntsville, AL, Chickamauga, GA, Tullahoma, TN, and Rosman, NC) and moved slightly south of east at a speed of 147,600 mph. It traveled just over 1 mile through the atmosphere before burning up about 53 miles above the ground.

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Second Fireball Occurs Over Northern Michigan

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On Tuesday, Sept. 23, a second fireball occurred about 40 minutes after the fireball in Tennessee. The Michigan fireball is close to the edge of the camera because the meteor was at extreme range, over 200 miles away, for the camera.

The Michigan fireball was produced by a piece of a comet over 2 feet across, probably weighing around 40 pounds. It hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 54,000 mph.

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Fireball Over Southern Tennessee

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At 8:26:38 pm CDT on Tuesday, Sept. 23, a 2 inch piece of an asteroid entered the atmosphere above the town of Lutts in southern Tennessee. Moving almost due west at a speed of 46,300 miles per hour, it traveled some 52 miles before burning up 25 miles above the Tennessee farmland. At its peak, the fireball was about twice as bright as the planet Venus, and was seen by many in north Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

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Did a Meteorite Cause a Crater in Nicaragua?

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At approximately midnight local time on the night of September 6 (September 7, 6 UTC), a loud explosion was heard in an area near Managua, Nicaragua. A crater some 39 feet in diameter was found near 86.2 degrees west longitude, 12.2 degrees north latitude, in good agreement with the reports of explosive sounds. It has been suggested that a meteorite may have caused this crater; however, the lack of fireball reports from the surrounding populated area seems to suggest some other cause. The skies were partially clear, and an object capable of producing a crater this large would have also generated a very bright fireball (brighter than the Full Moon) that should have been seen over a wide area. Some have drawn analogies to the September 2007 Carancas meteorite fall in Peru; however, there were fireball reports associated with this event, even though it occurred in the daytime near noon.

While a meteoritic origin for this crater cannot be ruled out with absolute certainty, the information available at this time suggests that some other cause is responsible for its creation.

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