For stargazers, it looks as if 2012 will go out with a bang.
The Geminids meteor shower, which will be at its peak Thursday and Friday nights, is one of the best showers of the year, said David Kriegler, a University of Nebraska at Omaha physics professor.
There will be no moon to obscure viewing, he said, and experts are predicting up to 120 meteors an hour. However, he said, there is one problem.
“The time of the year,'' Kriegler said. “The weather can be cold and changeable.''
Tonight likely will offer the best viewing. The forecast is mostly clear skies, with temperatures in the low 30s just before midnight. Friday night could bring clouds and rain to the metro area, according to AccuWeather, The World-Herald's weather consultant.
The naked eye should suffice for a good view of the Geminids showers, Kriegler said, as long as enthusiasts of the heavens leave the city lights behind.
“All meteor showers are best observed after midnight,'' he said. “This is when the Earth's motion runs into the particles and they burn brighter.''
The best place to look for meteor showers in the night sky? Straight up, he said.
“Gemini will be rising off to the east,'' Kriegler said, “but looking straight up is where you will see the most meteors'' because the atmosphere is thinner.
The atmosphere at the Earth's horizon is about 20 times thicker, he said, than the atmosphere straight up.
Kriegler agreed that 2012 has been a good year for stargazers. He said the best and biggest, the transit of Venus across the Sun, was viewed by thousands in Omaha alone on June 6.
There's nothing big on the stargazing calender early in 2013, he said, but a year from now the night skies could burn bright.
“Nothing spectacular, no eclipses,'' Kriegler said, “but by the end of the year there may be a very bright comet.''
Comet ISON is a faint glow right now in the constellation Cancer, but the mass of rocks and ice may be seen by the naked eye for a few months late next year and in early 2014. It might even outshine the moon in the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers say.
The year’s best meteor shower peaks tonight and Friday. As many as 120 meteors an hour could streak across the sky.
» Geminids are rocky debris from an extinct comet called 3200 Phaethon.
» They’re called Geminids because they appear to come from the constellation Gemini.
» The debris burns up as it enters Earth’s upper atmosphere, appearing as a shower of meteors, or “shooting stars.” This phenomenon occurs each year in mid-December.
Sources: NASA, McClatchy Newspapers
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