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Geminid meteor shower lights up night sky
Those looking to make a wish on a shooting star should have plenty of opportunities when they gaze skyward during Thursday night's Geminid meteor shower, which astronomers call the "most intense meteor shower of the year."
The meteor shower peaks late Thursday night into dawn Friday with an estimated 50 or more meteors per hour. A new moon on Thursday will make the sky dark for ample stargazing. For the best view, find a rural area or a spot facing away from city lights and allow time for your eyes to adjust to the dark.
The Geminid shower isn't the only out-of-this-world spectacle on display. An asteroid -- named 4179 Toutatis -- will pass over the planet on Thursday at a safe distance of 4.3 million miles. While it does not pose any threat to us on this orbit, it will be close enough to see on advanced telescopes, and computer screens worldwide.
According to Marc Taylor, director of the Planetarium at the Hudson River Museum, what makes this asteroid stand out from others is its proximity to Earth. “Near-Earth asteroids are particularly studied because they come close enough that we have a slight concern of them hitting us,” said Taylor. “Maybe not in a couple years, but even 100 years from now.”
This peanut-shaped Toutatis has come close to Earth in the past, Taylor explained. It orbits the Earth every four years, and in 2004 it was nicknamed the “doomsday” asteroid because it was the closest passing asteroid to Earth since 1353, approaching Earth within 963,125 miles -- just four times the distance of the moon.
If you're trying to catch a glimpse of the space rock on your own, you might have a little trouble.
“Since It’s only a few kilometers wide, you’d have to be looking at the right part of the sky, and watch closely,” Taylor advised. “It will pass just fast enough against the background of the stars, and with dedication and the right practice you may be able to spot it.”
There is still hope for amateur atronomers and couch potatoes alike; the live feed of the asteroid’s journey will be livestreamed online. You can watch at Slooh Space Camera or Virtual Telescope Project.