Be sure to keep your eyes open in the early morning sky for the often neglected Ursid meteor shower on the 22nd of December, shortly before the winter solstice.
This minor meteor shower can be observed only from the Northern Hemisphere, producing between five and ten meteors per hour darting across the sky.
Ursids peak on the evening of December 21 and continue into the early morning hours of December 22. There will be a 50% full moon. That combined with the often cloudy winter nights in December could obscure your view of this little shower.
For the best perspective on the shower, wait for the moon to set around 12:30 a.m. ET on Dec. 22, according to NASA. Then observe the sky for about an hour.
While the meteor shower originates in the constellation Ursa Minor, known as the Little Dipper, these meteors will be seen across the entire sky.
According to EarthSky.org’s Skywatching Guide, the Ursids are a relatively new meteor shower. While many of the meteor showers we see throughout the year have occurred annually for centuries, the Ursids were not observed until the 20th century.
Meteor showers occur when Earth passes close to the orbit of Comet 8P/Tuttle, and this year our close flyby includes several debris trails that also follow this comet, according to the American Meteor Society. This could lead to more activity during the meteor shower.
Do not look straight up at the sky. According to the American Meteor Society, look about halfway up in the sky.
June’s Geminid meteor shower continues through Sunday, and the winter solstice occurs a day later on Dec. 21.
Also, remember to keep an eye out for the so-called “Christmas Star” on Dec. 21 (which isn’t actually a star). This is the day Jupiter and Saturn come closer together in the sky than they have in centuries. During twilight, this conjunction makes them appear like a double planet.