July 24th, 2024

Geminid meteor shower expected to light up the night sky

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 13, 2023.

For those who like to keep an eye on the sky, the Geminid meteor shower expected to take place this evening and into the morning hours of Thursday should be quite the show.

One of the rare meteor showers that doesn’t originate from a comet, the Geminids – named for the constellation Gemini from which the meteors appear to originate – is said to be caused by 3200 Phaethon, an object that astronomers suspect is a Palladian asteroid. While much is currently unknown about the Geminids, the Japanese space agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), plans to launch a mission in 2025, called Destiny+, that will gather samples of the rock dust from 3200 Phaethon.

“The Geminids were first observed in the 1800s and they were not very prominent… but they’ve actually grown in magnitude over the decades, and now they are very reliable,” says Perry Savey of the Lethbridge Astronomy Society.

Long before the Geminids were visible, Blackfoot people saw great significance in the sky and celestial activity. William Singer III (Api’soomaahka) says that meteor showers can act as reminders in Blackfoot culture of the connection to the stars and the cosmos. He describes learning “Stories of our great-great ancestors who were taken to the heavens and were brought back down in the form of a meteorite. So, wherever they landed they would a build a structure, either a circle of rocks or a pillar.” Singer says that there are many stories and teachings involving meteor showers and the skies, in fact, they can even be represented on the tipi and are recorded on the Winter Counts which track events using symbols and images.

“When you see a meteorite and it disappears, it’s up there. It had that choice to come down, but it went back up… They don’t make it down unless they have a purpose,” says Singer.

Whether the meteor shower is just a sight to behold, or a symbol of deeper spirituality, those interested in viewing the event tonight are advised to find a place away from the city lights and avoid phone screens for at least 30 minutes. The activity is said to be more visible as the night goes on so Savey advises anyone keeping an eye out to have patience and use a night sky app.

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