From Space Weather News for Dec. 20, 2007
URSID METEORS: Earth is heading for a stream of comet dust that could produce a pleasing outburst of “shooting stars” this weekend. Forecasters say dozens of meteors per hour could emerge from a spot in the sky near the North Star (Polaris) when Earth encounters the dust on Saturday evening, Dec. 22nd. These meteors are called “Ursids” after Ursa Minor, [From Latin ursus or “bear”, whose name is connected to the myth of Callisto; we are talking about the “Little Dipper”] the constellation where the North Star is located. If forecasting models are correct, the shower’s peak will occur between 2100 and 2200 UT (4-5 pm EST) with meteors visible as much as four hours before and after that time.
The source of the dust is Comet 8P/Tuttle, which is traveling through the inner solar system this month and next. The comet itself can be seen through binoculars not far from the radiant of the shower. This gives sky watchers a rare opportunity to see a comet and its meteors in the same observing session.
Ursid meteors, which appear in small numbers annually, have a reputation for faintness and delicacy. Dark skies are usually required to see them; bright moonlight on Dec. 22nd will only exacerbate the problem of visibility. However, say forecasters, during an outburst of Ursids there may be a fair number of bright meteors. No one knows what will happen–all the more reason to look!
Meanwhile, our intrepid little Martian rover Spirit, the little rover that could, is still struggling against time and soft ground to get to a slope which will give its dust covered solar panels a better angle to the sun, so that it can survive the Martian winter.
Spirit’s mission, slated for 3 months, has stretched to 47!
Dust is a huge problem. Spirit’s twin on the other side of Mars, Opportunity, had a battle last July with a dust storm that cut the level of sunlite for its own power.
Spirit has been crossing northward on a low plateau called “Home Plate”. As of its 1386th sol (or “Martian day” – 26 Nov 2007) Spirit had driven 7435 meters (4.62 miles). From its landing site near the northwest corner of the image below, Spirit crossed a plain to the Columbia Hills, climbed over the summit of Husband Hill, and descended into the “Inner Basin” of the range, near the southeast corner of the image.