Live Web Chats Today: Geminid Meteor Shower


Baby, it’s cold outside — but you can still enjoy the best meteor shower of the year. The 2010 Geminid meteor shower promises to be lively, with realistic viewing rates of 50-80 meteors per hour and potential peaks reaching 120 meteors per hour. Anytime between Dec. 12-16 is a valid window for Geminid-watching, but the night of Dec. 13-14 is the anticipated peak.

You have two opportunities to learn more about the Geminids from meteor experts based at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. On Monday, Dec. 13 from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. EST, meteor experts Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw will answer your questions, then you can stay “up all night” to observe the Geminids with NASA astronomer Bill Cooke. Have the coffee ready, then join them online from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. EST as the Geminids peak in the skies over Earth.

Joining the chats is easy. Simply go to https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids2010.html a few minutes before each of the chat start times list above. The chat module will appear at the bottom of this page. After you log in, wait for the chat module to be activated, then ask your questions. Here’s to a spectacular viewing!

False-color composite view of 2008 Geminid meteor shower is courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
 

Here Come the Geminids!

Last night the NASA All-sky Meteor cameras detected their first Geminid fireball of 2010!  The fireball, detected from cameras positioned in both Huntsville, Ala., and Chickamauga, Ga., was first spotted over southern Tennessee at a height of 58.7 miles above the ground.  It streaked across the sky over northern Alabama at a speed of 76,300 mph and completely burned up by a height of 53.4 miles.  If the weather remains clear, we should be in for a good Geminid show this year! 


Geminid fireball meteor seen from Huntsville (left) and Chickamauga (right) on December 6, 2010.

Meteor rates should peak early next week, so stay tuned for more news about the Geminid meteor shower!


Image courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Ikeya-Murakami: The New Comet on the Cosmic Block


The animation below shows the motion of Comet Ikeya-Murakami on Nov. 13, 2010, captured with a New Mexico-based telescope operated remotely by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The images were taken near dawn and show the comet’s movement over a period of 45 minutes.  Each exposure was three minutes in length, and the faint angled streak around 0:10 in the animation is a satellite trail. At the time of these images, the comet was some 229 million miles away from Earth.



Comet Ikeya-Murakami was discovered very recently on Nov. 3, 2010, by Japanese amateur astronomers Kaoru Ikeya and Shigeki Murakami. Their discovery is unusual because they both used manual observations through optical telescopes to identify the comet. Such observations are rare in recent times when astronomers use cutting-edge digital imaging to study the skies.

Ikeya-Murakami is classified as a long-period comet, or those comets having eccentric orbits ranging from 200 years millions of years to make one circuit around the sun.


Courtesy of Rob Suggs, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Full Moon Doesn't Phase Orionids Viewing

Despite the fullness of the moon, the all-sky meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed to detect a decent number of Orionid meteors this October — 41 in total! Thesemeteors, produced by debris from Halley’s Comet, travel at 146,000miles per hour and burn up high in the atmosphere. Most Orionids werefirst detected around an altitude of 68 miles, and completely burned upby a height between 58 and 60 miles above the ground.

Shown below are two Orionid meteors observed on Oct. 21, 2010.  The shower radiant, located near the constellation Orion, is easily visible.

 

The Orionids peaked on October 21 when the all-sky camera detected 13 double station Orionid meteors.

Images courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Tiny Asteroid 2010 TG19 Approaches Earth

Using the Marshall Space Flight Center 0.5 meter telescope in New Mexico, NASA astronomer Rob Suggs captured this view of the tiny asteroid 2010 TG19 as it made its way among the stars of the constellation Pegasus.

Taken before sunup on Oct. 15, the animated sequence shows the movement of the asteroid, then 4.25 million miles away from Earth, over 45 minutes. Only 75 yards across, 2010 TG19 is very faint at magnitude +18 , which is near the limit of the telescope. It will continue to approach during the next few days, finally coming within 268,500 miles of our planet, or almost as close as the moon, at noon EDT on Friday, Oct. 22.

Courtesy of Rob Suggs, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Only 11.5 Million Miles Away Now!


MSFC astronomer Bill Cooke took this five-minute exposure of Comet Hartley 2 late on the night of Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, using a 10″ telescope in New Mexico.


The comet, which has now reached naked eye visibility, was just under 11.5 million miles from Earth and sporting a coma over a degree across — twice the size of the full moon. You can read more about the “coma” and other parts of a comet at the NASA Worldbook: Comets page.

This very active visitor to our neighborhood makes its closest approach around 8 a.m. EDT on  Oct. 20, at a distance of 11.2 million miles. Unfortunately, the light from the nearly full moon will tend to wash out the comet’s pale green glow, so comet watchers are advised to make use of a pair of binoculars for the best view.

Image courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Camel Leopards and Comets


Camelopardalis.

It’s a strange-sounding name for a constellation, coming from the Greco-Roman word for giraffe, or “camel leopard”. The October Camelopardalids are a collection of faint stars that have no mythology associated with them — in fact, they didn’t begin to appear on star charts until the 17th century.

Even experienced amateur astronomers are hard-pressed to find the constellation in the night sky. But in early October, it comes to prominence in the minds of meteor scientists as they wrestle with the mystery of this shower of meteors, which appears to radiate from the giraffe’s innards.

The October Camelopardalids are not terribly spectacular, with only a handful of bright meteors seen on the night of Oct. 5. It may have been first noticed back in 1902, but definite confirmation had to wait until Oct. 2005, when meteor cameras videotaped 12 meteors belonging to the shower. Moving at a speed of 105,000 miles per hour, Camelopardalids ablate, or burn up, somewhere around 61 miles altitude, according to observations from the NASA allsky meteor cameras on the night of Oct. 5, 2010.


So they aren’t spectacular. Their speed is calculated. Their “burn up” altitudes and orbits are known. So what’s the mystery?

Camelopardalids have orbits, which indicates that they come from a long period comet, like Halley’s Comet. But the Camelopardalids don’t come from Halley, nor from any of the other comets that have been discovered. Hence the mystery: somewhere out there is — or was — a comet that passes close to Earth which has eluded detection. These tiny, millimeter size bits of ice leaving pale streaks of light in the heavens are our only clues about a comet of a mile, maybe more, in diameter.

This is why astronomers keep looking at the Camelopardalids meteors. They hope that measuring more orbits may eventually help determine the orbit of the comet, enabling us to finally locate and track this shadowy visitor to Earth’s neighborhood.

'Only' 14 Million Miles Away!


The skies were clear over New Mexico last night — Oct. 6, 2010 — so Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., captured this image of Comet Hartley 2 at a distance of “only” about 14 million miles from Earth.

Hartley 2 has passed out of the constellation Cassiopeia and is now traveling through the constellation Perseus. On October 20th, the comet will come within 11 million miles of Earth. Since comets rarely come this close, it will be faintly visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky. The comet has an orbital period — or time to travel once around the sun — of approximately 6.5 years.

For those interested in astronomy photography, the image was taken with a single shot color filter with 300-second exposure via a remote-operated telescope located in Mayhill, N.M.

We’re tracking Hartley 2’s journey as it approaches Earth, so stay tuned for more photos!

Image courtesy of Rhiannon Blaauw, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Comet Hartley 2 Seen in Cassiopeia

 
In this image taken on the evening of  Friday, Oct. 1, Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in the constellation Cassiopeia (north-east sky, not far from horizon).


Hartley 2 will only be in Cassiopeia for a few more day before traveling through the constellation Perseus. It’s a Jupiter Family Comet that we can’t see right now because it’s too tiny at approximately 1.2 km across. In this image, the comet was still 16,500,000 miles from Earth. 

On October 20th, Hartley 2 will will come within 11 million miles of Earth, and since comets rarely come this close, it will be visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky. The comet has an orbital period, or time to travel once around the sun, of approximately 6.5 years.

For those interested in astronomy photography, the image was taken with a single shot color filter with 300-second exposure. It was captured by Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., via a remote-operated telescope in Mayhill, N.M.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Hartley 2 as it approaches Earth, so stay tuned for more photos!


Images courtesy of Rhiannon Blaauw, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Fireball in the Sky!

It was brief, but it was brilliant! On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at approximately 8:50 p.m. CDT, cameras operated by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recorded a slow moving fireball moving from the north to the southwest. 


Enhanced-color image of Alabama fireball meteor.

The fireball was moving approximately 35,300 mph (15.8 km/s). It appeared at an altitude of 45.5 miles (73.2 km) and ablated, or burned up, at an altitude of 25.3 miles (40.7 km).  The meteor experienced significant deceleration as it entered the atmosphere, resulting in a meteor trail that lasted about three seconds, seen in the movie below:

Using data from cameras at both Huntsville and Chickamauga, Ga., astronomers at the Marshall Center determined that the meteor was located over Marion County, Ala. 


Diagram of fireball’s path over Marion County, Ala.


Images and video courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.