Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Shower of stars
to light isle skies

Isle residents will see a spectacular
show if weather cooperates

By Helen Altonn

Islanders may have to look for breaks in the clouds tomorrow night to see the Geminid shower, the only regular shooting star shower generated by an asteroid instead of a comet.

"I'm a little pessimistic about being able to see many stars," said National Weather Service forecaster Hans Rosendal, predicting some heavy showers and cloudiness. But, he said, "There might be some breaks in cloudiness, especially on the Leeward and Honolulu side."

Weather aside, Mike Shanahan, Bishop Museum Planetarium manager said there are some advantages to this year's Geminid shower.

"There is no moon to get in your way, and it starts a little earlier than usual, about 10 p.m.," he said.

It will begin in the east and move across the sky, continuing until about 3 a.m. Friday, he said.

The shower is caused by debris from Asteroid 3200 Phaeton and appears to radiate from the Gemini constellation. Some astronomers believe Phaeton may be the dead nucleus of an ancient comet.

Jupiter "is like a belly button" in Gemini at night, the brightest thing in the eastern sky, Shanahan said.

"Find Jupiter and it will be in the same general area where the shooting stars are coming from," he said.

The shower will not be as dramatic as last month's Leonid meteor show, Shanahan said, but it tends to be consistent.

It usually produces about 100 meteors an hour.

"It is a nice, steady reliable one, slower moving, a longer tail kind of shower," he said.

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