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Oregon Coast, Portland, Inland May See Some of Meteor Shower Peak

Published 12/13/2016 at 5:23 PM PDT - Published 12/13/2016 at 5:53 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

moonlight and stars above Manzanita

(Oregon Coast) – The Oregon coast and the inland part of the state are in for a celestial treat tomorrow and the next night. The peak of the Geminid meteor showers happens tonight and Wednesday, plus there's a special full moon tonight. (Above: moonlight and stars above Manzanita. With a full moon, the skies and stars will look more like this).

Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland's OMSI, explained the happenings over the next few nights. But it all depends on what the weather does.

Tonight's full moon is called the Full Frost Moon, and it will reach its highest point due south this evening. Todd said the full moon closest to the winter solstice – which happens December 21 – is the highest full moon of the year, and it will be extra white.

At about 27 minutes past midnight tonight (Wednesday morning), the moon will be 62 degrees above the southern horizon, its highest altitude for the year.

“The moon reached perigee or closest distance to earth on December 12th at 3:28 p.m. PST at a distance of 222, 738 miles, followed by the full moon on December 13th at 4:05 p.m. PST,” Todd said.

The moon moves in many ways that are similar to the sun, rising towards the east and setting towards the west, Todd said. And like the sun, it reaches its highest point in and around midnight (whereas the sun does so around noon). If the skies are clear enough, on the Oregon coast you could see it setting beyond the horizon, like the sun had done earlier that day.

The other interesting aspect of a full moon is how it is opposite the sun at that point. Todd said to imagine it like a celestial see-saw.

“On the day when the Sun is highest in the middle of the day (in Summer), the Moon is at its lowest high point at midnight; and on the day when the Sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in Winter), the Moon is at its highest high point at midnight,” Todd said.

Tonight and tomorrow night are the peak of the 2016 Geminid meteor showers, happening in the overnight hours. Sadly, however, this is not a good year for them, Todd said. It all happens during the full moon which will cause faint meteor streaks.

“Forecasters expect the shower to peak with as many as 120 meteors per hour,” Todd said. “Wherever you live, the best time to look is during the hours between midnight and dawn on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is one of the major meteor showers of the year.”

Todd said the Geminids will generally be coming from all directions in the sky, but many will have a path traceable to the constellation Gemini near the star Castor. If you can, look just after things get really dark as they hit the atmosphere at a shallow angle and then burn slowly across the sky.

The Geminids are debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon, which has some unusual characteristics in its orbit. It behaves a little more like a comet, but since it does actually move in an orbit it's been nicknamed the “rock comet.”

NASA's STEREO spacecraft has done some studies on it, examining its dust trails in 2010 and noting that it actually ejects dust. Scientists think this is because the Sun's heat causes fractures in the rocky mass, much like cracks that develop in dried mud.

This time around, Earth is moving deeper into the Phaethon's debris field than it usually does.

How observable will all this be? For the Oregon coast, the skies look to be mostly clear tonight and then again Thursday night. Wednesday appears to be mostly if not completely cloudy. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour




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