Watch the skies on Thursday and Friday night for the Geminid meteor shower, and you may also be seeing another, entirely new group of shooting stars.
NASA scientists expect that 2012 could be the first year where Earth makes contact with debris left in the wake of the comet Wirtanen, which could result in a second, slower meteor shower best visible on Thursday night. Wirtanen was discovered in 1948 and completes one orbit of our sun every 5.4 years.
"Meteors from the new shower (if any) will be visible in the early evening, with the Geminids making their appearance later on and lasting until dawn," NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke said in a statement on Tuesday.
Computer models predict that the new meteor shower will seem to radiate from the constellation Pisces. So, if the new light show does show up, astronomers may decide to call it the Piscids.
Even if the Piscids fail to make an appearance, the Geminids should put on quite a show -- the moon will be new on Thursday night, so the meteor shower will have no competition for brightest object in the sky.
Cooke expects the Geminids could deliver as many as 120 meteors per hour.
The Geminids originate from the debris of 3200 Phaethon. Though it used to be thought of as an asteroid, further observations have revealed that Phaethon is actually and extinct comet that flew too close to the sun too many times, shedding its ice and leaving behind a rocky heart that we encounter every year.
For best watching results, head for the hills away from city lights, and keep watch until just before sunrise (or check out NASA's livestream). The Piscids, if they do decide to put in an appearance, should be slower than the Geminids.
Roxanne has liked science ever since she started watching "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on Saturday mornings over a bowl of sucrotic O's. She especially likes writing about...