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Tomorrow we will witness the birth of a new meteor shower

Tomorrow we will witness the birth of a new meteor shower

Long exposure photography with the Geminid meteor shower over Teide Peak | IAA, JC Casado, Starry Earth Flickr CC

Throughout our lives, we have all had the opportunity to marvel at the silent and sublime beauty of meteor showers on occasion. Whether in summer with the famous Perseids, popularly known as the “Tears of San Lorenzo”, with the Leonids of the past that we enjoy in mid-November or with the Geminidians that will meet in a few days. The International Astronomical Union keeps it updated Detailed list with hundreds of meteor showers Occurring throughout the year, astronomy enthusiasts carefully note the most notable dates on the calendar while waiting for the next meteor shower.

Almost daily, our planet is bombarded by the remains of comets and other celestial bodies that disintegrate upon entering our atmosphere and present us with those beautiful meteors that leave their luminous trail for a few moments. Most of these meteors are barely the size of a grain of sand, but they enter our atmosphere at such high speed that they leave an intense glow in their path.

But there is something you don’t see every day.. A new meteor shower, a short, unprecedented and unknown astronomical event, may occur in just a few hours. This discovery was made by an international team of astronomers and was published on the ArXiv website just a few days ago under the title “A new meteor shower from Comet 46P/Wirtanen could occur in December 2023.“.

The researchers, who belong to various astronomical institutions such as the Paris and Tokyo observatories, as well as the universities of Lille, Boston and London, report that a stream of debris left behind by this near-Earth comet around the Sun would appear to flow from the direction of the star Lambda-Sculptoris, which already leaves us with a possible name. For this new meteor shower: “Lambda Sculptors“.

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Comet 46P/Wirtanen seen by the Hubble Telescope in December 2018 |  NASA, ESA, D. Bodewits (Auburn University) J.-Y.  Lee (Planetary Science Institute)

Comet 46P/Wirtanen seen by the Hubble Telescope in December 2018 | NASA, ESA, D. Bodewits (Auburn University) J.-Y. Lee (Planetary Science Institute)

The hero of this shower is pictured above, taken by the legendary Hubble Telescope five years ago. It is known as a comet 46P/WirtanenIt is a small ball of gas, ice and dust that revolves around the sun every 5.4 years. As its name indicates, it was discovered in 1948 by American Karl Alvar Wirtanen, a prolific astronomer who, along with his wife Edith, discovered quite a number of asteroids and comets from the Lick Observatory in California.

Expected brightness of the Lambda-Sculptoris shower (left) Geographic location and visibility of the shower (right) |  J. Vaubillon, et al.  Archive (2023)

Expected brightness of the Lambda-Sculptoris shower (left) Geographic location and visibility of the shower (right) | J. Vaubillon, et al. Archive (2023)

Its frequent passage every five years is why it was discovered so early (in fact it was discovered before Halley’s Comet, which takes about 75 years to orbit the Sun), but it leaves an interesting question: why haven’t we discovered it? Before the shower of stars he leaves in his wake? One possible solution to this question could be its coincidence with a much larger meteor shower, the Geminid meteor, which also occurs in the coming days of December. The new Lambda-Sculptoris meteor shower could have served as an unintended opening for the Geminids for several decades before astronomers were finally able to determine its presence.

He added, “The results show the possibility of holding a meeting.” On December 12, 2023, between 8:00 and 12:30 UTC [0300 y 0730 EST]. The level of rainfall activity is very uncertain due to the lack of previous reported rainfall.” The authors explain on Space.com. Researchers also expect that the best viewing of the newly discovered meteor shower for this occasion will occur in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, although it is an unprecedented event, and we have no previous records of its intensity. Those lucky enough to see them will be the first to discover them firsthand.

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Scientific references and more information:

J. Vaubillon, Q.-Z. Yi, A. Aqal, M. “Sato and De Moser.”A new meteor shower from Comet 46P/Wirtanen is expected in December 2023ArXiv:2312.02636v1 [astro-ph.EP]

Robert LeaDebris from a near-Earth comet could create a new meteor shower this week“Space.com