Meteor Shower Tonight Could Have Surprise Visitor

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Dec. 13 2012 1:35 PM

Meteor Shower Tonight Could Have Surprise Visitor

Grab a blanket, a mug of coffee, and a comfy lawn chair, and enjoy the show.

The Geminid meteor shower peaks Thursday night, and the annual celestial light show may have a special guest star enlivening its act this year. Appearing to emanate from the constellation Gemini, the Geminid meteors are actually remnants of the asteroid Phaeton that get trapped and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere when our planet orbits through the asteroid's debris field.

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But scientists have noted this year's shooting-star show may be enhanced by the Earth's rare, concurrent encounter with another celestial body. Debris from comet Wirtanen—whose path Earth has not crossed since 1948, when it was discovered—may enter our atmosphere up to four times between now and Friday, adding as many as 30 additional meteors an hour.

This year's double-dip display should be a further visual treat for sky-watchers, especially since Thursday night will be free of the moon’s glare.