The sky will sparkle one last time in 2013, when the Ursid meteor shower graces the winter solstice sky on December 21.
It’s a low-key welcome on this shortest day of the year, when the sun rises at 7:17 a.m. Eastern Time and sets at 4:32 p.m., giving we Turtle Island denizens a mere nine hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds of daylight. The good news, of course, is that there’s nowhere to go but up, in terms of darkness versus light. Winter officially begins at 12:11 p.m.
“No matter where you live on Earth’s globe, it’s your signal to celebrate,” Earthsky.org says. “For us on the northern part of Earth, the shortest day is here! After the winter solstice, the days get longer, and the nights shorter.”
Those south of the Equator, of course, are celebrating the summer solstice, their longest day of the year.
And everyone will be able to see the Ursids at night, what there are of them. Generally December is known for the Geminid meteors, because they are prolific and reliable, as Space.com points out—in other words, they can be counted upon for fireballs. While the Geminids can peak with 100 or more meters per hour, the Ursids only generate 12 or so per hour during their peak time.
Watching the Ursids is a bit tricky on this particular day, because it’s also the one day of the year that the moon, just past its full stage, is in the sky nearly all night long. However, Space.com says, there is a window of time on Saturday evening before the moon rises, when for 2.5 hours viewers can peer into a dark sky and see the Ursids, even though their actual peak is early on Sunday morning the 22nd. And in that the smaller shower has an advantage over its bigger, brighter cosmic cousin.
“With the Geminids you needed to be out during the inconvenient morning hours between moonset and the break of dawn,” Space.com says. “But in the case of the Ursids, the time to watch this year will be on Saturday evening, after evening twilight ends and before the moon rises. Stargazers will have about 2.5 hours of dark skies for meteor viewing. So this return of the Ursids is not totally unfavorable.”
Not the most ringing of endorsements for braving the winter chill, but as Space.com points out, you never know…. And to hedge all bets, Space.com will stream the Slooh Space Camera’s webcast of the shower, starting at 5:30 Eastern Time on Saturday evening.