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The Ursids: Nature’s Holiday Light Show

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The Ursids: Nature’s Holiday Light Show

Every late December, skywatchers can head outside and watch the annual Ursid meteor shower, which peak each year around the time of the Winter Solstice, December 20-23rd. It’s the second of two meteor displays in December, the first being the Geminds, which peaked earlier in the month, around December 11-13th.

Created by dust from the tail of the comet Comet 8P/Tuttle, the Ursids are not typically one of the strongest meteor showers commonly observed. These meteor showers generally produce anywhere from 5 to 15 meteors per hour.

Every meteor shower has a “radiant point,” which is the point in the sky where they appear to emanate from; and the showers are usually named for the constellation in which the radiant points lie. The Ursids appear to come from The Little Dipper asterism, which is in the constellation Ursa Minor. This is why these showers are named the Ursids.

There have been a few occasions when the Ursids have surprised observers with a sudden outburst many times their normal hourly rate (over 100 per hour in 1945), but such cases are very few and far between.

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For best viewing: If you want to watch the Ursids, find an open space, nice and dark, free of light pollution, with an unobstructed view of the sky. Bundle up, and plan to spend a few hours watching for them, anywhere between midnight and dawn.

2017 update: The Moon will be in the waxing crescent phase 18-20% full, and may impede viewing somewhat but you should still be able to catch a few of these shooting stars. Bundle up!

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1 comment

1 Marilyn { 12.19.15 at 7:06 pm }

I saw a few very early this morning while traveling thru milaca. Mn

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