Viewing the Ursid Meteor Shower in 2012

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Examples of Ursid meteors seen just before dawn while facing north

The week before Christmas is not one usually devoted to meteor observing. That is unfortunate as an obscure shower known as the Ursids reaches maximum activity during this periodWashington. It is not a strong display like the Geminids, but is capable of producing 10-15 shower members per hour under ideal conditions. I have seen the Ursids as high as 25 per hour from the low latitudes of southern California. This shower is expected to reach maximum activity near 0800 Universal Time on December 22nd. This corresponds to 0300 EST and midnight PST. There also exists the possibility that another small display of activity may also occur earlier near 0300 UT, also on the 22nd. This corresponds to 2200 (10pm) EST and 1900 (7pm) PST on the evening of December 21st. Unfortunately the waxing gibbous moon will be in the sky during the evening hours and will obscure all but the brightest Ursids. Unless you are viewing from Europe, where the moon will have set by this time, it may be best to wait until after the moon has set on the morning of the 22nd to view Ursid activity. The Ursid radiant, located near the bright orange star Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris), is also better situated higher in the morning sky during the morning hours. Rates are weak away from maximum so do not expect to see more than 1-2 per hour on any morning other than December 22nd. It would be wise to face toward the northern half of the sky to view these meteors. While some activity can be seen toward the south, more meteors will be shooting downward and sideways out of the radiant and cannot be seen if facing south. These meteors are faster than the Geminids and have a different look to them compared to other showers. It is also unusual to see such activity from such a northern radiant. This also prevents these meteors from being visible from the southern hemisphere.

If your skies are clear on Saturday morning, you should try viewing some of this activity!



  • Tia P 8 years ago

    I saw 3 things in the sky on my way home from work on 12/18/12 about 5:10 PM CST, in Jackson Ms.Two things look like fire in the sky, almost like what an exploded star would look llike. The third was like a streak an airplane would make in the sky but it was fire not smokey looking. I have been looking around on line and watching the news to see if anyone else saw it as well.

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  • Kim Soik 8 years ago

    I think I sited a meteor at 3:00 am this morning of 12/21/12. It lit up the sky in Waukesha, WI for a second. Pretty cool, I just got done teaching my students about meteors in science class last trimester and I think I saw one myself on a whim as I was making my coffee.

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