Author Archives: wcooke

Look Up! Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Aug. 11-12

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Make plans now to stay up late or set the alarm early next week to see a cosmic display of “shooting stars” light up the night sky. Known for it’s fast and bright meteors, the annual Perseid meteor shower is anticipated to be one of the best potential meteor viewing opportunities this year.

The Perseids show up every year in August when Earth ventures through trails of debris left behind by an ancient comet. This year, Earth may be in for a closer encounter than usual with the comet trails that result in meteor shower, setting the stage for a spectacular display.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” said Bill Cooke with NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

An outburst is a meteor shower with more meteors than usual. The last Perseid outburst occurred in 2009.

How to Watch the Perseids

The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13.

For stargazers experiencing cloudy or light-polluted skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 13-14, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT.

Read more about the Perseids here.

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12. Credits: NASA/JPL

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12.
Credits: NASA/JPL

Fireball Over Arizona

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For a few seconds early Thursday, night turned into day as an extremely bright fireball lit the pre-dawn sky over much of Arizona, blinding all-sky meteor cameras as far away as western New Mexico.

Based on the latest data, a small asteroid estimated at 5 feet (1-2 meters) in diameter – with a mass of a few tons and a kinetic energy of approximately half a kiloton – entered Earth’s atmosphere above Arizona just before 4 a.m. local (MST) time. NASA estimates that the asteroid was moving at about 40,200 miles per hour (64,700 kilometers per hour).

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Video obtained from the NASA meteor camera situated at the MMT Observatory on the site of the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, located on Mount Hopkins, Arizona, in the Santa Rita Mountains.

Read more here.

Fireball Seen Over Tennessee and North Carolina

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We observed a fireball the morning of May 4 around 12:50am EDT, traveling southwest at about 77,000 mph over the Nantahala National Forest on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. At its brightest point, it rivaled the full moon. According to Dr. Bill Cooke in NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. , “The fireball was bright enough to be seen through clouds, which is an attention getter. In Chickamauga, Ga., one would have thought it was a flash of lightning lighting up the clouds beneath.”

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NASA to Provide Live Coverage, Interviews, and Social Media for March 8 Solar Eclipse

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Editor’s note: You can watch both the solar eclipse program and the raw video feed on the Watch the March 8 Solar Eclipse Live page.

NASA, in partnership with the Exploratorium Science Center in San Francisco, will host activities around the March 8 total solar eclipse, including opportunities to talk with solar scientists and live coverage of the eclipse originating from Woleai island in Micronesia.

At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, solar scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will participate in a Reddit Ask Me Anything.

NASA Television will begin coverage at 8 p.m. on March 8. The period of total eclipse, called totality, will occur from 8:38 to 8:42 p.m.

Twitter, Google+ and Facebook users will be able to join the conversation and ask questions using the hashtag #eclipse2016. The NASA Twitter account for the eclipse is @NASASunEarth. The public will be able to tag and share their images of the solar eclipse on the NASA Flickr group at:

The total eclipse will be visible in parts of South East Asia and a partial eclipse will be visible in parts of Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and America Samoa. An eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly between Earth and the sun. When the moon’s shadow falls on Earth, observers within that shadow see the moon block a portion of the sun’s light.

Information about eclipses is available online at:

For solar eclipse video resources, visit:

2013 total solar eclipse. Credits: Copyright Pavel Štarha, Kristián Molnár

2013 total solar eclipse.
Credits: Copyright Pavel Štarha, Kristián Molnár

Five Planets Align in Early Morning Sky

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The graphic below illustrates the five planets as they are visible, with the naked eye, from Huntsville, Alabama.  It shows their positions in the sky around 6:30 AM during the week of January 18 and continuing for the next few days. Mercury will be close to the Sun, over in the East, and Jupiter will be over in the West, with Venus, Saturn, and Mars between the two. Pluto is near Mercury, but is invisible to the eye, requiring a telescope for viewing.

The last time an alignment such as this occurred was about 10 years ago. This pre-sunrise configuration will be similar for other northern latitudes.

In the graphic, the yellow line is the ecliptic, which is the plane of the Earth’s orbit. The orbits of the major planets lie close to this plane, which is why they appear close to the ecliptic in the night sky.

Image generated by Bill Cooke using SkySafari Pro software.

Image generated by Bill Cooke using SkySafari Pro software.

Quadrantid Meteor Over North Georgia

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NASA’s All Sky cameras captured this image of a Quadrantid meteor overnight, the meteor was moving at 93,000 miles per hour. This 1 inch diameter member of the Quadrantid meteor shower leaves a brilliant streak in the north Georgia skies before burning up 44 miles above Earth’s surface. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks overnight on January 4.quadrantid

Bright Fireball Detected by 6 NASA All Sky Cameras

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We have received numerous reports concerning a bright fireball that occurred over Georgia at 5:33:55 PM CST (6:33:55 PM EST). All 6 NASA all sky meteor cameras in the Southeast picked up the meteor at an altitude of 50 miles above the town of Georgia (SE of Atlanta). From its brightness, it is estimated that this piece of an asteroid weighed at least 150 pounds and was over 16 inches in  diameter. It entered the atmosphere at a steep angle and moved almost due south at a speed of 29,000 miles per hour. The NASA cameras tracked it to an altitude of 17 miles above the town of Locust Grove, where it had slowed to a speed of 9000 miles per hour, at which point the meteor ceased producing light by burning up. It is possible that fragments of this object survived to reach the ground as meteorites.

A more detailed analysis will be performed tomorrow and further details will follow if this analysis still indicates the possibility of a meteorite fall.

Ground track, still images from the cameras, and a movie from the NASA camera located in Cartersville, Georgia attached.


Join NASA’s Geminid Meteor Shower Tweet Chat on December 13-14

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The Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of December 13 through the morning of December 14. Geminid rates can get as high as 100 per hour, with many fireballs visible in the night sky. Best viewing is just before dawn.

NASA Tweet Chat: Observe the Geminid Meteor Shower
On the night of December 13, astronomer Bill Cooke from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will answer questions about the Geminid meteor shower via a live tweet chat. To ask questions, simply use the #askNASA or @NASA_Marshall. Cooke, Rhiannon Blaauw and Danielle Moser will be available to answer questions between the hours of 10 p.m. CST, beginning the evening of December 13, until 2 a.m. December 14 CST.

How to View the Geminid meteor shower
The best opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor shower is during the dark pre-dawn hours of December 14.

For optimal viewing find an open sky – because Geminid meteors come across the sky from many all directions.

Lie on the ground and look straight up into the dark sky. Again, it is important to be far away from artificial lights. Remember, your eyes can take up to thirty minutes to adjust to the darkness, so allow plenty of time for your eyes to adjust

About the Geminids
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.

Nature's 'light show' is how NASA describes the Geminid meteor shower - a meteor flash is seen here with an aurora borealis shimmer in Norway

Nature’s ‘light show’ is how NASA describes the Geminid meteor shower – a meteor flash is seen here with an aurora borealis shimmer in Norway

Five Fun Facts for the 2015 Geminid Meteor Shower

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#1. The Geminid meteor shower can be seen from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Because they are pieces of an asteroid, Geminid meteoroids can penetrate deeper into Earth’s atmosphere than most other meteor showers, creating beautiful long arcs viewable for 1-2 seconds. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.

Marshall Space Flight Center will host a live Tweet Chat from 10 p.m. Dec. 13, until 2 a.m. on Dec. 14. Meteor experts Dr. Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all from NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, located at Marshall, will stay up late answering questions via Twitter. NASA followers interested in joining the online conversation can tweet their meteor questions to the Marshall Twitter account, @NASA_Marshall, or simply tag their tweets with #askNASA.


#2. Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. It was long thought to be an asteroid, but is now classified as an extinct comet.

Phaethon’s eccentric orbit around the sun brings it well inside the orbit of Mercury every 1.4 years. Traveling this close to the sun blasts Phaethon with solar heat that may boil jets of dust into the Geminid stream. Of all the debris streams earth passes through each year, the Geminid shower is the most massive. When we add up the amount of dust in this stream, it outweighs other streams by factors of 5 to 500. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.


#3. Because they are usually bright, many people say Geminid meteors show color. In addition to glowing white, they have been described as appearing yellow, green, or blue.

Geminid meteoroids hit earth’s atmosphere traveling 78,000 mph or 35 km/s. That may sound fast, but it is actually somewhat slow compared to other meteor showers.


#4. Geminids are named because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation of Gemini. The shower lasts a couple of weeks, with meteors typically seen Dec. 4-17, peaking near Dec 13-14. Click the image to view a Geminid in action.


#5. The Geminids started out as a relatively weak meteor shower when first discovered in the early 19th century. Over time, it has grown into the strongest annual shower, with theoretical rates above 120 meteors per hour.


Fireball Seen in Early Evening Sky on Veterans Day

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On November 11 at 5:41:17 PM CST there was a fireball detected on two NASA cameras; one located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and the other in Tullahoma, TN.

Last evening’s fireball was just across the Tennessee/Arkansas border over the town of Jonesboro, Arkansas (NW of Memphis – see ground track image below). Speed was about 43,000 mph, and the object weighed around 10 pounds (6 inches in diameter).

The orbit, which extends well beyond Mars, indicates that the meteoroid is a piece of an asteroid.

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