The annual Geminid meteor shower dazzled Earthlings around the world late Saturday and early Sunday.
Pieces of gravel and dust from a “rock comet” called 3200 Phaethon shot across the sky and lit up discussion boards from NASA.gov to Twitter — for those who could tear their eyes away long enough to type.
A rock comet is an asteroid that flies so close to the sun that the solar heat scorches debris right off its surface, according to NASA, causing Phaethon “to shed meteoroids like embers spitting off a log in a roaring campfire.”
“We’ve seen about 30-40 in the last hour from Simpsonville, South Carolina. Best Geminids I’ve ever witnessed, so clear and bright,” wrote Angie Ashmore McAtee on the NASA discussion board at about 2 a.m. ET.
Astronomer Phil Plait, who writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog, saw the Geminids from the Boulder, Colo., area:
Scientists first saw the Geminids in the years before the U.S. Civil War, but back then the shower was weak and attracted little popular attention, NASA says, and gave no hint of the spectacle it would become.
In Southern California, where a major storm system has put a tiny dent in the state’s drought, clouds blocked the view.
At the StarTalk radio studio in New York, where rock star physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts a weekly show on science, the view was also clouded:
The meteor shower’s peak has passed, but NASA says the Geminids will be visible for a few more days and sometimes lasts more than two weeks. StarTalk might get another chance to see the shower.