Dec 16, 1998
Bunches of Geminids
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Updated: June 18th, 2018
Above, right: "Geminid meteors in Orion" -- Clicking on the image above will activate a video clip of two meteors streaking through the constellation Orion. They were filmed by Dr. Tony Phillips in Aspendell, CA at approximately 1110 UT on December 13, 1998, the night before the maximum of the 1998 Geminid meteor shower. He used an Astrovid 2000 CCD video camera with a 12 mm f1.2 lens, and a shutter speed of 1/60 sec. The 30 frame sequence spans 2 seconds of actual time. The dimmer of the two shooting stars, which travels straight down from the top of the image, is a Geminid. The brighter, which zooms in from the left, comes from the general direction of the constellation Leo. It is probably a sporadic meteor or a Coma Berenicid, but it could also be a late-arriving Leonid.
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This account from long-time meteor observer Mark Balzer in Oklahoma is typical of the reports received so far:
"This shower is one of the best I've seen in my 25 years of observing meteors, but not as good as the Leonids less than a month ago. Some of the meteors are fairly bright, up to magnitude -1 (not as bright as many Leonid meteors), but none are leaving lasting trails.... The meteors sometimes appear in groups of two or three. These groups may consist of meteors in the same part of the sky or observed simultaneously (or nearly so) in different parts of the sky."
1999: A good year for Geminids?The source of the Geminid meteoroids is a curious object called 3200 Phaethon that looks like an asteroid, but may be an extinct comet. It travels in a highly elliptical 1.4 year orbit that brings it within 0.15 AU (astronomical units) of the Sun. Phaethon will pass through the inner solar system next year, coming within 1.2 AU of Earth on October 16th. If 3200 Phaethon is indeed the source of the Geminid meteoroids, then its close approach to Earth next year bodes well for another impressive Geminid shower in 1999.
Take a virtual tour of the solar system, complete with the curious asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the source of the Geminid meteors.
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Author: Dr. Tony Phillips
Production Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips
Curator: Bryan Walls
Responsible NASA official: John M. Horack