December is a fantastic month for stargazers. The Geminid meteor shower provided a dazzling spectacle in the night sky this month, and the Ursid meteor shower is about to put on a pretty good show, as well. The Ursids peak in the early-morning hours of Saturday.
While the Geminid meteor shower is the best-known astronomical event of this month, the Ursid meteor shower offers spectacular views, too. The best time to see the Ursid meteor shower is very early on Saturday, between midnight and 5 a.m. EST, bearing in mind the moon will set circa 2 a.m.
The Ursids were given their name because they appear to fan out from within the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, as noted by Space.com.
So what it is the real origin of the Ursids? The meteors are the result of Comet 8P/Tuttle, which circles the sun every 13.6 years. The comet leaves a cloud of debris in its wake that enters the Earth’s atmosphere and is set afire, creating a fantastic spectacle.
One issue that may bother some skygazers during the Ursid meteor shower is that it isn’t the most prolific meteor shower of the month. At their respective peaks, the Geminid shower produces as many as 120 meteors per hour, while the Ursid shower produces only as many as 12 meteors per hour. However, the Ursids can still provide a great view for skygazers.
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For most people in the Northern and Western Hemispheres, the Ursid meteor shower may a bit hard to see at first this time around. As Space.com pointed out, the moon is in a waxing gibbous phase, which could result in a lot of light across the night sky, making it hard to see the meteor shower during its early peak hours. Once the moon sets, however, this should be a nonissue.
To see the Ursid meteor shower, make sure you choose a especially dark area -- to cut the amount of light pollution -- and look low in the northern sky.