Friday, 18 December 2009
Stars in my eyes
I have always been fascinated by the position of our Earth in the solar system, and the increasing knowledge we are gaining from earth or space travel. I remember sitting in front of a television in the 1960s for example, watching the first space travel, and then the amazing Moon landing. None of us who saw that will ever forget it.
Earlier this month I read that here in the Northern Hemisphere we should be able to view the annual Geminids meteor shower. I knew about the annual Perseid meteor shower in August, when the Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, but this was something new to me. I read that the annual Geminids meteor shower would be easy to see this year because it would be nearly the new Moon, so there would be less moonlight to obscure it. I gather that meteor showers result from dust which has been blown away from comets which have passed near the sun. This time however the Geminids meteors would come from the tail of an asteroid rather than a comet, and would burn more brightly. They would be about the size of a pebble. The warmth of our star would melt part of the icy meteor, releasing rock or metal fragments, and this is what could be seen at night on 12th, 13th and 14th December with the naked eye from the UK.
So at 10.35 p.m. last Sunday, 13th December, I decided to brave the below-freezing temperatures of this part of the South of England. The night sky was clear and there was no artificial light around, so I could look up in the heavens in an easterly direction and hope to see some of the Geminids meteors. Within just a few minutes I saw a beautiful shooting star - one of the meteors! Once I could see where it came from, I went into the back garden and during the next eight minutes I saw eight more. They were an amazing sight. The piercing cold drove me indoors but nine meteors sighted in just nine minutes made for a memorable event. I was truly standing outside with stars in my eyes...