SCASS Organizes a Special Geminids Shower Observations

16 Dec 2018

SCASS Organizes a Special Geminids Shower Observations

A SCASS team composed of Mr. Mohamed Talafha, Observatory Research Assistant, Ridwan Mohamed Fernini, Research Assistant, and Abdul Hadi Taqi, Public Relation Officer, organized a unique Geminids shower observation in the Liwa region with a group of 20 students from different schools in Sharjah. The Liwa region was chosen for two reasons: (1) its dark skies, and (2) the location of the third UAE Meteor Monitoring Network. On the night of December 14th, the team was able to observe more than 100 meteors. More results will be presented as the data from both the Sharjah and Liwa towers are reduced.

The Geminids meteor shower peaks on the mornings of December 13th and 14th, 2018 – but if you look up any time there is a clear night sky until December 17th, you might just catch a glimpse of a Geminid meteor.

UAE Meteor Monitoring Network Observations

The towers at SCASS and Liwa were able to observe a large number of meteors during the shower. However, due to light pollution, SCASS tower detected an amount that is nearly half that detected by the Liwa tower.

The total number of meteors observed on the 14th of December from the SCASS tower was 157 meteors, recorded from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. However, in Liwa the total number was 322 meteors – more than double. Therefore, one can see the effect of light pollution and how it plays a huge rule in limiting the observer from observing meteors from a city. The same applies to the following day, though this time the number from the SCASS tower reached 194 meteors while in Liwa it reached 272. This was expected because the peak was anticipated to be on the night of the 14th of December. The graph below compares the observations from both towers from December 13th – 15th, 2018.


Origin of the Geminids Shower

The Geminids shower is unusual as it is one of two meteor showers confirmed to be caused by an asteroid (most meteor showers are caused by comets). The Earth passes through the debris cloud scattered by an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon in December each year. The fiery display is caused as the debris is vaporized by the Earth's atmosphere having traveled through the solar system for 4.6 billion years.

The Geminids shower is noted for producing 120 or more meteors per hour, which travel at around 35 kilometers per second and are often brightly colored. The colors indicate the main chemical composition of that particular meteor. An orange or yellow color denotes sodium, yellow signifies iron, blue-green means magnesium and violet indicate calcium. If the meteor appears red, that is nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the atmosphere glowing as they are super heated by the space dust slamming into them at high speed.

About that asteroid

3200 Phaethon has a wildly eccentric orbit, quite different from many other asteroids. At its furthest point from the center of the solar system, 3200 Phaethon enters the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter at around 360 million kilometers from the Sun (for context, Earth is around 150 million kilometers from the Sun). At its closest point, it is 21 million kilometers away – a mere stone's throw from the Sun, in astronomical terms. Here, the asteroid can bake in temperatures up to 750°C.

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