The Ursids meteor shower is peaking this year on Saturday December 22, 2012. The annual meteor shower usually peaks right around the winter solstice. Meteors should be visible for the next few nights if you can’t watch them tonight.
The Ursids are typically the most visible in the more northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere.
The Ursids are a somewhat new meteor shower, it was first seen around the beginning of the 20th century. They appear to radiate from the star Kochab in the bowl of the Little Dipper.
“The Little Dipper asterism is in the constellation Ursa Minor the Lesser Bear — hence, the Ursid meteor shower. This shower has been known to produce short bursts of over 100 meteors per hour. But typically the shower is much sparser than that. It might produce only five to 10 meteors per hour at its peak.”
If you’re going to watch them, I recommend heading out a ways from the city’s bright lights, dressing warmly, and bringing a good reclining chair and some hot chocolate.
“The waxing moon obscures the evening viewing of the December 2012 Ursids. But since the radiant point of the Ursid shower will climb upward after the moon sets anyway, we expect the modest Ursid shower to produce the greatest number of meteors between midnight and dawn on Friday, December 22.”
While that is the peak, the should remain visible for the next few nights. You can expect 5-10 meteors an hour, with bursts of up to 100 an hour that are unpredictable. They radiate out from the Little Dipper asterism in the northern sky.
“The Ursids were probably discovered by William F. Denning who observed them for several years around the start of the 20th century. While there were sporadic observations after, the first coordinated studies of shower didn’t begin until Dr. A. Bečvář observed an outburst of 169 per hour in 1945. Further observations in the 1970s and ongoing to current have established a relationship with comet 8P/Tuttle. Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen discovered that outbursts could happen when comet Tuttle was at aphelion because some meteorids get trapped in the 7/6 orbital resonance with Jupiter.”
Image Credits: Ursa Minor via Wikimedia Commons