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Meteor Shower Brings the Fireballs

geminid meteor
A meteor flashed through the Bitterroot night sky this week. (Mike Daniels, Townsquare Media)

The annual Geminids meteor shower is known for an unusually large number of large flashes in the sky, known as fireballs. The Bitterroot Valley skies were a little hazy with high clouds Thursday evening and Friday morning (Dec. 13-14), but you could still see some of the “falling stars,” as in the photo above. There were 56 fireballs reported Thursday from the NASA all-sky cameras. Observers in Europe were reporting about 85 meteors per hour during that time. The little rocky objects (and they are tiny) are from comet 3200 Phaethon, which is considered a “rock” comet because of the amount of ore versus ice. There will be more meteors for a few more nights, but we also have clouds predicted. Timing is everything.

By the way, a different comet is making itself visible in the night sky. It’s a blue hazy thing and in order to see it requires a little patience and some knowledge as to its general location among the constellations. From our position on Earth, we’ll see Comet 46/Wirtanen passing between Orion and the Pleiades and should be visible for at least a week or two. You might want to use binoculars to see it. Its closest approach to Earth is December 16, which also nearly coincides with its closest approach to the Sun. By late January, it will on its outward bound path, but you might be able to see it by the Big Dipper. Get more information on that and other sky events at spaceweather.com. December 16th also has good odds for some Northern Lights.

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