Skywatchers are already gearing up for a spectacular show from the annual Geminids meteor shower this week, and now astronomers say a new meteor shower's debut could make for even more shooting stars.
NASA officials say a never-before-seen show could come from comet Wirtanen, which is in the Jupiter family of comets (so-called because their orbits are altered by their close passage to the gas giant Jupiter). First discovered in 1948, comet Wirtanen circles the sun about every 5.4 years. Though it has skimmed Earth's orbit many times, 2012 could mark our planet's first encounter with the dirty snowball's debris streams.
"Dust from this comet hitting Earth's atmosphere could produce as many as 30 meteors per hour," Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office said in a statement Tuesday (Dec. 11).
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