The Ursid meteor shower, also called the Ursids, takes place each year between December 17 and 23. This year, the Ursids will peak in the pre-dawn hours of December 22, with around five shooting stars lighting up the night sky every hour.
Ursids are the last meteor shower of the year, following the start of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The shootings stars seem to originate from near the Beta Ursae Minoris (Kochab) in the constellation Ursa Minor, hence their name. However, their actual source is a stream of debris left behind by the comet 8P/Tuttle, which is nearly the size of Manhattan and orbits the Sun every 4,970 days, or 13.61 years.
Unlike other meteor showers, such as the Geminids, which shoot between 30 and 40 meteors per hour at their peak, the Ursids are less spectacular, with only about five to a maximum of ten (visible in ideal conditions with little light pollution) meteors per hour (although bursts of about 100 meteors per hour did happen in 1945 and 1986).
“The Ursids meteor shower is a fairly minor display occurring in late December,” explained Dr. Greg Brown, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. “With at best around ten meteors per hour in ideal conditions, many observers won’t see more than a few meteors even around the peak.”
“However, if you want to try and see this shower for yourself the usual tips apply. Try and find a place with a low horizon to grant yourself the best view of the sky, and wait for the early hours of the morning when the shower will be at its best. Fill your view with as much of the sky as possible (a deckchair can be a real help here) and wait.”
Although the Ursids are better seen from the Northern Hemisphere, if atmospheric conditions are good, some of them might be visible from the Southern Hemisphere too. And while their peak will be tonight, there is a chance to still see some occasional shooting stars even on Christmas.
By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer