The Ursids produce a handful of meteors or shooting stars every hour, usually in the range of five to 10 per hour. A nearly moonless sky means good viewing, despite the relatively low number of meteors.
The 2019 Ursid meteor shower will peak overnight the night of Saturday, December 21 to Sunday, December 22.
We’re not expecting an outburst. But the Ursids have surprised us before
NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke
In previous years, the meteors have been more spectacular.
In 1945 and 1986, for instance, 50 meteors per hour were reportedly observed, but experts admit such events are rare.
Speaking about this year’s Ursid meteor shower, Bill Cooke a NASA meteor expert told Space.com: “We’re not expecting an outburst.
“But the Ursids have surprised us before.”
The Ursids have a sharp peak on the morning of December 22, meaning stargazers will witness many more meteors on that day than on days before or after.
Star at the inky black sky in the morning on the 22nd, after midnight and as late as possible before sunrise.
The meteor-shower radiant, which the meteors will appear to be flying away from, is near the bowl of the Little Dipper, also known as Ursa Minor.
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The radiant will then climb higher in the sky in the pre-dawn hours.
Meteors will appear to be streaming out from the radiant, but they can show up all across the sky.
Amateur astronomers and eager photographers should look a little away from the radiant, but not too far, to ensure they catch sight of meteors with longer tails.
That said, the Ursids are not renowned for leaving spectacular tails across the sky.
Where does the Ursids meteor shower originate from?
The Ursids are associated with Comet 8P/Tuttle, which was discovered in 1790 and re-discovered by Horace Tuttle in 1858.
The comet orbits the Sun every 14 years and is not a very bright comet, due to its many punishing trips around the Sun.
The Ursids occur when Earth impacts with the trail of cosmic dust and debris left over the comet’s journey around the Solar System.
The shower itself was first recorded in England in 1900, and also spotted in Germany in the decades following.
Shooting stars are more officially called meteors.
Before they hit the Earth’s atmosphere, they are called meteoroids.
Meteors that reach the ground are called meteorites, although it is very uncommon for the debris that constitutes meteor showers to make it down without totally incinerating in Earth’s atmosphere, because these pieces are so small.
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