Take cover, meteors are falling from the sky

Ruth Black

Meteor over central Russia leaves uproar; breathtaking celestial activity expected

Many earthlings are drifting around in a state of sheer panic in the wake of last week’s meteor that exploded over central Russia and sent fiery chunks of debris careening towards unsuspecting citizens.

Miraculously, no casualties have been reported yet, and most of the 1,200 injuries were not due to the meteorites themselves, but from shattered window-glass and debris from about 3,000 buildings in the surrounding area.

Meteors are rocky particles, ranging in size, that move in interplanetary space and pass through the earth’s atmosphere. The rocky particles that are not incinerated by the earth’s atmosphere and strike the earth’s surface, causing the trail of destruction as seen in Russia, are considered meteorites.

Comets, on the other hand, are considered to be more like “dirty snowballs,” according to astronomer Fred Whipple, consisting of mostly ice, dust and other frozen gasses and orbit around the sun, just as planets do.

Additionally, instructors might want to close their windows come fall semester 2013, because the light shows are just getting started.

According to EarthSky.org, sky-watchers around the world can expect the arrival of Comet PANSTARRS in March 2013, which will be visible to the naked eye, having a similar luminosity to that of Venus.

In November alone, people can expect to enjoy two celestial displays, unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Comet Encke is a periodic comet (one that regularly orbits the sun) that has an orbital rate of about 3 years, the shortest of any known comet.

The last time Comet Encke made an appearance was in April 2010, and scientists expect its return around Nov. 21, according to UniverseToday.com.

Comets have extremely different orbital rates, most taking thousands of years, so the discovery of such periodic comets is extremely exciting because they will be visible with the naked eye more than once in our lifetimes—we just have to know when and where to look.

November’s grand finale will include Comet ISON on Nov. 28 to be as bright as the full moon when it gets to the closest point to the sun, according to Earth Sky. Indeed, Comet ISON may become so bright that it might be visible during the day. It might give a light show for a month.

Consider this a warning. Giant celestial snowballs streaking across the sky do not necessarily mean that the rapture has come.

We are just the lucky witnesses to some of the most frequent and breathtaking celestial activity to grace our skies in recent memory.

So mark your calendars, grab some shades, and enjoy your next spring and Thanksgiving breaks with a front-row seat to the best “free show” on the planet.