Ursid Meteor Shower & December Solstice 2016 Australia: How and when to best view these sky spectacles

By @ULB1N on
A meteor streaking past stars, light up the night sky over the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl near the village San  Nicolas de los Ranchos in Mexican state of Puebla in the early hours of December 14, 2004.
A meteor streaking past stars, light up the night sky over the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl near the village San Nicolas de los Ranchos in Mexican state of Puebla in the early hours of December 14, 2004. The shower, named Geminid because it appears to originate from the constellation Gemini, lit up the sky with dozens of shooting stars per hour. Reuters/Daniel Aguilar

Last week’s handful of sky spectacles included the Geminid meteor shower and 2016’s third supermoon in a row. But the fun isn’t over yet for cosmic aficionados as more December sky shows are set to take place this week led by the Ursid meteor shower. Here are the must-see astronomical events that will close the year out.

READ: New Zealand Earthquake 2016: Supermoon links, sky lighting up in colours

December 21 – December Solstice

On December 21, the Northern Hemisphere will experience the shortest day of 2016. This is because the sun will be resting at its lowest point in the sky at 9:44 p.m. AEDT on that day. This phenomenon is called the winter solstice.

On the other hand, the Southern Hemisphere will see the sun at its highest point. The summer solstice will make December 21 the longest day of 2016 for those south of the equator. Solstices occur due to the Earth’s slanting position on its axis as it orbits the sun.

According to National Geographic, the exact date and time of the December solstice varies to some extent year after year due to the difference between a 365.26-day solar year and a 365-day calendar year. The solar year represents the actual length it takes for Earth to make a single full circle around the sun.

December 22 - Ursid Meteor Shower

The Ursid shower is named as such because the meteors appear to light up from the little bear constellation, Ursa Minor. According to Time and Date, the meteors, which are also known as Ursa Minorids or Ursids, are related to the comet 8P/Tuttle, at times branded as Mechain-Tuttle's Comet.

Ursids usually average around 10 to 15 shooting stars an hour, although the numbers shoot up to about 30 occasionally. This year’s shower will produce lesser bursts due to a waning gibbous moon. Stargazers and meteor shower enthusiasts are expected to see about 5 to 10 surges an hour on December 22.

Unfortunately for Australians, the Ursids will only be seen from the Northern Hemisphere. The best time to start viewing them is at midnight.

READ AGAIN: Geminid Meteor Shower & Supermoon December 2016 Australia: How and when to best view these sky spectacles

December 22 - Waning Crescent Moon and Jupiter

The waning crescent moon will be situated in the sky alongside a vivid Jupiter early morning of December 22. Although the two systems will be millions of miles apart, both of them will be visually perfect together side by side. During that time, the moon shall be about 250,000 miles away from Earth, while Jupiter will hang around from about 584 million miles back.

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