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IYA2009 Press Release 0962

Royal Astronomical Society Press Release
Ref: RAS PN 09/62
Date: 11th December 2009
For immediate release

Issued by:
Dr Robert Massey
Press and Policy Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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On the evening of 13th and the morning of 14th December, skywatchers across the northern hemisphere will be looking up as the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak, in what could be one of the best night sky events this year.

At its peak and in a clear, dark sky up to 100 ‘shooting stars’ or meteors may be visible each hour. Meteors are the result of small particles entering the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, burning up and super-heating the air around them, which shines as a characteristic short-lived streak of light. In this case the debris is associated with the asteroidal object 3200 Phaethon, which many astronomers believe to be an extinct comet.

The meteors appear to originate from a ‘radiant’ in the constellation of Gemini, hence the name Geminid. By 0200 GMT on 14th December the radiant will be almost overhead from the UK, making it ideally placed for British observers. As a bonus, the Moon will not be present in the sky on the morning of maximum activity so the prospects for a good view of the shower are excellent. And unlike many astronomical phenomena, meteors are best seen without a telescope and are perfectly safe to watch.

Meteors in the Geminid shower are less well known, probably because the weather in December is less reliable. But those who brave the cold can be rewarded with a fine view. In comparison with other showers, Geminid meteors travel fairly slowly, at around 35 km (22 miles) per second, are bright and have a yellowish hue, making them distinct and easy to spot.

This year the peak of the Geminids meteor shower occurs around 0500 GMT on 14th December, but the highest level activity is spread over a period lasting a day or more. This means that if conditions are clear it is worthwhile observing at any time between Saturday night and Tuesday morning.

In one of the final events of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009), the Geminids will also feature in a Twitter event where observers under clear skies can post their text, images and videos to share them with those in less favourable locations. Newbury Astronomical Society will be leading the ‘tweeteor’ watch and anyone with Internet access can join in by following @NewburyAS and @astronomy2009uk on or by signing up to the ‘Meteorwatch’ group on Facebook.


Robert Massey
(details above)

Steve Owens
UK Co-ordinator, IYA2009
c/o Glasgow Science Centre
Tel: +44 (0)141 420 5010 x. 299
Mob: +44 (0)771 772 0479
E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it



The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.


The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA 2009) is a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture. It is intended to stimulate worldwide interest not only in astronomy, but in science in general, with a particular slant towards young people. IYA 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the monumental leap forward that followed Galileo Galilei’s first use of the telescope for astronomical observations. In the UK the chair of IYA2009 is Professor Ian Robson, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, and the co-ordinator for IYA 2009 activities is Steve Owens, also a UKATC employee. UK IYA 2009 activities are jointly funded by the Royal Astronomical Society (, the Institute of Physics ( and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (

IYA 2009: UK home page