One Of The Best Meteor Showers Is Coming: Here's How To Watch It
It's an exciting time for space watchers in Australia this week.
If you're still awake at 2am on Thursday and Friday mornings, cast your eyes outside, because the annual Geminid meteor shower will be on show.
The astronomical wonder occurs every year in December when the 3200 Phaethon comet crosses Earth's orbital path.
The meteor shower happens as debris is burnt off the comet as it moves closer to the Sun , said Professor Phil Brand from Curtin University's School of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
"It has a really close approach to the Sun and because of that the surface has been cooked off," Bland told 10 daily.
"It's one of the best meteor showers of the year."
For scientists, this is a particularly exciting event due to the possibility of debris making it through to the atmosphere to Earth.
"Because the object has been cooked off, the material is a bit tougher and denser than most cometary material," Bland said.
"When you do the math, it's just possible that some of it might reach the surface of the Earth."
Fifty cameras in Australia and 40 others stationed around the world help Bland and his team at the Desert Fireball Network capture and locate any meteors that make it through the atmosphere.
'If we ever see a fireball from the Geminid, every year we look and check to see if any of it might land," he said.
The DFN hopes to have a global network of more than 200 cameras by the end of next year.
"This increases the chances that we should be able to see and find something really exciting."
But Geminid is not the only space event to light up our skies this week -- Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be the closest it's been to Earth in almost 70 years.
'Closest' is a relative term -- it will still be 11.5 million kilometres away, or 30 times the distance between Earth and the Moon.
At the moment, it's already visible when using binoculars. It looks like a fuzzy green dot, and has a very faint tail of debris trailing it.
But it will become easier to see every night until Saturday, when it will be at its closest, and therefore its peak visibility.
Comet 46P will be bright enough to see with the naked eye from a fairly dark place, said Bland.
"We're actually in really good shape to see it and my understanding is that it could get really, really bright," he said.
"People will certainly be able to take photos of it with regular cameras and lenses."
While it does orbit near the Sun every five or so years, it isn't usually close enough to be seen from Earth. It won't be visible again for another 20 years.
This a rare event on the astronomical calendar as being able to see a comet with the naked eye is pretty unusual, Bland said.
"The last naked eye one was about three or four years ago, and we were able to take images of it without hardware,' he said.
"If you have a decent telescope you can see them more regularly than that."