Falling From the Sky

Wednesday evening, on through Thursday morning, if you can see the night skies, meteors will be falling. Actually, they will be falling whether you can see them or not.

These are the Geminid meteor showers. They seem to have started, all of a sudden, back in 1862 when people noticed meteors shooting out of the constellation Gemini.

Interestingly, nobody was able to find a comet that could explain this shower until 1983 when the object 3200 Phaethon was discovered. However, 3200 Phaethon appears to be an asteroid, not a comet. It is solid rock, several miles wide, with no wispy tail of debris to fall upon us. It is also a PHA (potentially hazardous asteroid) whose path misses Earth’s orbit by less than 2 million miles.

3200 Phaethon may be a “dead” comet, though, having had all its ice evaporated as it flew in its orbit around the sun, closer even than the planet Mercury, where the temperatures exceed 660 degrees F, leaving only a rocky core.

Or, it may be an actual asteroid traveling in a wake of its own debris after colliding with another object. This seems likely, considering the brightness of the Geminid showers, indicating a more rocky substance.

So if you need something to move your eyes up from all the happenings around you, or just want to watch the larger show, Wednesday night is the good time, when the wreckage of solid stone burns, as it falls through the air, to the earth.