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Meteor Shower, Comet Above Oregon and the Coast - Sort Of

Published 12/11/2018 at 4:49 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Meteor Shower, Comet Above Oregon and the Coast - Sort Of

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(Oregon Coast) – It's enough to give you the astronomy version of road rage: two intensely bright sky displays are headed for Oregon and the coast but it will likely be too cloudy to see them. The most intense meteor display of the year happens right about now and a magnificent comet is making a splash in the night. (Above: the moon and stars make streaks at Manzanita with a long exposure).

What may be the brightest meteor shower of the year is underway right now, running until December 16. The Geminid meteor shower actually peaks on December 13 and 14, but the Oregon coast probably won't get to see it as the forecasts are calling for cloudy skies at night. However, Oregon forecasters haven't nailed some of the sunnier moments that popped up recently around the coastline, so there's always that chance they're wrong and there will be some breaks in the night sky.

Inland Oregon, such as around Portland, will see some minor clearing during those overnight hours, which should make for some sightings on Thursday morning and Friday morning. You'll need to head to less well-lit regions in the vicinity of major towns. As many as 120 streaks per hour may be visible, and winter skies are much clearer than other times of the year.

According to Jim Todd of Portland's OMSI, 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, start looking just after skies get really dark: 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: since it does actually move in an orbit it's been nicknamed the “rock comet.”

If you're looking for another reason to feel frustrated with Oregon coast weather this time of year, the brightest comet of 2018 will give you plenty of astronomy rage. Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes Earth every 5.4 years, but on Monday, December 16, it will zip by at its closest distance to our blue world. It's also known by the name "Christmas Comet."

Monday is looking cloudy for both the Oregon coast and the inland region, however.

Its orbit is one of the closest to the Earth since the 1950s, but it is not exactly completely visible with the naked eye. You'll find it in the eastern horizon, showing itself as a faint blue dot. On December 16, it will be approximately between Aries and Taurus, rising higher in the night sky each consecutive night. (You can see photos of the comet here).

Currently, NASA reports some 3,535 known comets. Like all of them, 46P is a loosely bound conglomeration of ice and rock, with the tail showing because the trail of debris it leaves behind gets heated up by the sun. See Oregon Coast Weather.

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