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The 2016 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Ursids: Nature’s Holiday Light Show

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The Ursids: Nature’s Holiday Light Show

Every late December, skywatchers can head outside and watch the annual Ursid meteor shower, which peak each year around the time of the Winter Solstice, December 20-23rd. It’s the second of two meteor displays in December, the first being the Geminds, which peak earlier in the month, around December 11-13th.

Created by dust from the tail of the comet Comet 8P/Tuttle, the Ursids are not typically one of the strongest meteor showers commonly observed. These meteor showers generally produce anywhere from 5 to 15 meteors per hour.

Every meteor shower has a “radiant point,” which is the point in the sky where they appear to emanate from; and the showers are usually named for the constellation in which the radiant points lie. The Ursids appear to come from The Little Dipper asterism, which is in the constellation Ursa Minor. This is why these showers are named the Ursids.

There have been a few occasions when the Ursids have surprised observers with a sudden outburst many times their normal hourly rate (over 100 per hour in 1945), but such cases are very few and far between.

For best viewing: If you want to watch the Ursids, find an open space, nice and dark, free of light pollution, with an unobstructed view of the sky. Bundle up, and plan to spend a few hours watching for them, anywhere between midnight and dawn.

2015 update: Sadly, this will not be a very good year to look for the Ursids because they peak only a few days before the Christmas full Moon.  That Moon will begin to light up the sky on the night of December 22, pretty much squelching visibility of all but the very brightest Ursid meteors.  Still worth heading outside and looking up!

1 comment

1 Marilyn { 12.19.15 at 7:06 pm }

I saw a few very early this morning while traveling thru milaca. Mn

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