Wondrous skies

Just because the Space Shuttle didn’t fly, sensor problems since you ask, it’s no reason not to look at the stars. Especially over the next few nights. The Geminid meteor shower is expected to peak on Friday night at 1745 GMT and the source is pictured left [taken from this article] – a 5 km wide object known as 3200 Phaethon. Discovered in 1983 by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, the asteroid/comet/something is responsible for the dependable December display which was first observed in 1862. Some technical data here and there’s a fun interactive 3-D orbit diagram here [Java req]. The Guardian science blog has some more links – including this wondrous Flash animation. You’ll notice from the diagram [Java again] that Phaethon passes close to the Earth.. on 10 December this year it passed at approximately 18 million km from the Earth. It’s a Near Earth Object and is now catalogued as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA).. and they have been known not to miss.. as some mammoths appear to have discovered in the past.. Just don’t tell Lembit.. Adds And in related news, QUB scientists, et al, get recognition for their work. Oh, and they’re here!