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Meteors, planets and a comet light up December skies across Whatcom

Look for Geminid meteor shower in clear December skies

This December brings the Geminid meteor shower, a bright comet and clear views of Saturn and Mars, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Geminids peak Dec. 13-14, with best viewing from dark sky locations after midnight local time.
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This December brings the Geminid meteor shower, a bright comet and clear views of Saturn and Mars, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Geminids peak Dec. 13-14, with best viewing from dark sky locations after midnight local time.

Several interplanetary visitors will be visible during the Northwest’s long December nights, providing the skies remain clear.

Possibly the most spectacular is the Geminid meteor shower, which peaks in the early morning hours of Dec. 14 — but meteors can be seen with the naked eye now through Dec. 17.

“If you can see the familiar winter constellations Orion and Gemini in the sky, you’ll see some Geminids,” said Jane Houston Jones, an astonomer and spokesperson for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark sky location but only after the first quarter moon sets around midnight your local time,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones said Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be easy to see starting Dec. 16 with the naked eye, just to the right of Orion’s belt.

Find it about a fist’s width or so above the eastern horizon during dusk, NASA said.

It’ll be more spectacular with binoculars or a telescope.

Saturn was seen near the moon at sunset from Dec. 8-10, Jones said. Mars tags along with the moon on the nights of Dec. 13-15.

And right now, Venus shines in the eastern sky in the early morning hours.

The Geminid meteor shower peaks each year in December. The team Science @ NASA explains where these meteoroids come from — and why the December shower is so intense.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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