- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Geminid meteor shower, one of the most dramatic celestial events of the year, will peak tonight.

The shower is created as the Earth moves through a cloud of dust trailing the 3200 Phaethon asteroid, according to the NASA Web site (www.nasa.gov). As the Earth plows through the bits of sand and rocks every year in mid-December, streaks of the space debris traveling at 80,000 mph burn through the atmosphere.

The shower started Saturday.

The best place to view it is away from city lights, which can obstruct the meteors’ brilliance.

The show can be seen this evening in the southern sky near the constellations Gemini, Orion and Taurus. The meteors will be the brightest at about midnight, NASA says, when they can be seen high overhead.

The meteor shower is call Geminid because it seems to come from the constellation Gemini. By tracing the meteors backward as they shoot across the night sky, watchers can find Saturn, which is particularly bright right now.

Sky watchers with telescopes will be able to better see Saturn, its rings and possibly its largest moon, Titan, which NASA is preparing to explore in January using the European Space Agency’s Huygens probes.

Some area residents became alarmed Saturday night when flashes from the meteors lit up the sky. Fire and rescue 911 dispatchers received about a dozen phone calls in Montgomery County from concerned residents, said Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Montgomery County fire department.

“It caught people by surprise. We tried to get some information out early that that is what [the lights] were,” Mr. Piringer said. “Initially, for one of the calls from up in Germantown area, we actually sent a firetruck out to investigate, and they were able to quickly determine that there wasn’t anything.”

Most of the 911 calls came from the Germantown and Rockville areas, as well as Loudoun County and Great Falls.

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