Viewing the Ursid Meteor Shower in 2014

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Geminid meteor over Colțești, Romania - ©   Sergiu Bacioiu

Geminid meteor over Colțești, Romania – © Sergiu Bacioiu

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 period. It is not a strong display like the Geminids, but is capable of producing 10-15 shower members per hour under ideal conditions. Luckily this year the moon is not a factor. 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 1600 Universal Time on December 22nd. This corresponds to 11am EST and 8am PST. Obviously locations further west such as Alaska are more favored to see Ursid activity. There also exists the possibility that another small display of activity may also occur later near 0040 UT on the 23rd. This corresponds to 2200 (7:40 pm) EST and 1900 (4:40 pm) PST on the evening of December 22nd. Locations further east are favored for this activity. Don’t expect much from this secondary maximum as the dust trail is over 600 years old.  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 slightly slower 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 Monday, you should try viewing some of this activity!

Examples of Ursid meteors seen just before dawn while facing north


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