The Ursids bring the last meteor shower of 2022

The Ursids bring the last meteor shower of 2022
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Just in time for the holidays comes a godsend – the Ursid meteor shower. This celestial event will be the last meteor shower of 2022.

The Ursids typically only produce about five to ten visible meteors per hour. according to EarthSky. While rates aren’t as high as other annuals, this year’s shower will peak Night of December 21 with a New moon at only 3% abundancewhich offers particularly good visibility for people in the Northern Hemisphere where it will be visible.

On occasion, the Ursids have been known to exceed 25 meteors per hour, and even 100 meteors per hour in 1945 and 1986. But NASA isn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary this year, according to Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office.

December 14, 2020, Bavaria, M'nsing: During the Geminid meteor shower, a shooting star can be seen in the starry sky above a tree.  The Gemini are the strongest meteor shower of the year.  Photo: Matthias Balk/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Expert reveals the best way to see a meteor shower

The shower of the Ursids started on December 13th and will be active until December 24th. Still, Cooke suggests observing the meteor shower near the night of its peak — if not that night, then the one before or after.

“They aren’t particularly faint, but they aren’t particularly bright either. The Ursids are a good medium-level meteor shower,” Cooke said. “They’re certainly not the twins or the Perseids, but hey, if you have time to kill while you wait for Santa, that’s probably a good thing.”

The Ursids are often overlooked due to their proximity to the Geminid shower, which peaked on December 13th and can also be observed through December 24th.

“Meteor watchers haven’t spent much time on this one in the past because it falls so close to Christmas,” Cooke said. “Meteorology students used to call them the ‘cursed Ursids,’ because nobody wanted to watch them.”

But any meteor shower can still be an awe-inspiring spectacle. When optimal viewing conditions are enough to tempt casual viewers to brave the cold to see an Ursid meteor, Robert Lunsford, the American Meteor Society’s fireball reports coordinator, recommends viewing in the early hours of December 22.

“(The Ursids) can be very unpredictable. I’ve watched them in perfect conditions and seen none, and other times I’ve seen them erupt at 25 an hour,” Lunsford said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get, but the conditions are almost perfect this year. If you go out into a dark sky, you’re likely to see between five and ten Ursids an hour.”

The Ursids come from Comet 8P/Tuttle (also known as the Tuttle Comet), an older comet that doesn’t produce much debris. In the sky, the meteors appear to emanate from the constellation Ursid Minor, better known as the Little Dipper. To distinguish these meteors from the Gemini, viewers should locate the constellation and identify which meteors appear to be coming from their direction.

“They’re visible all night because the radiant is very, very far north and never sets,” Lunsford said. “During the evening hours (the radiant) will be just a hair above the northern horizon, meaning most meteors will be blocked by the horizon, so it’s best to watch them in the last few hours before dawn.”

The further north you are, the better the visibility for this event, Lunsford said. (For those in the southern hemisphere, the shower isn’t visible because the jet doesn’t rise above the horizon.)

While this shower is the last of the year, skygazers won’t have to wait long for the climax of the Quantrantid meteor show, which will ring in the new year just a little belatedly on Night of January 3, 2023.

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