Ursid meteor shower to peak this week: What to know

While Geminid meteor shower was the last major meteor shower of 2020, skywatchers will get yet another show to close out the year: the Ursid meteor shower.

Considered a "minor" shower because of the small number of meteors that can be seen (between five and 10 per hour), it's also localized only to the Northern Hemisphere, according to EarthySky.org. It peaks on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, into the early morning hours of Dec. 22.

"If you look from a Northern Hemisphere location around the time of the solstice, you’ll find the Big Dipper and the star Kochab well up in the north-northeast at around 1:00 a.m your local time," EartSky wrote on its website. "That’s about the time of night you’ll want to start watching this meteor shower."

The Ursid meteor shower gets its name from the celestial objects Little Dipper – also known as the constellation Ursa Minor, according to NASA.

The Ursids are considered a "relatively new meteor shower," EarthSky.org added, having been first observed around the start of the 20th century, as an amateur astronomer noticed they seemed to emulate from the star Kochab.

Though they are relatively small in number, there have been a few occurrences where stargazers have seen unexpected outbursts. In 1945 and 1986, approximately 100 meteors per hour took place, while 1973 saw 30 meteors per hour.

For those who are worried they may not see the Ursid meteor shower, don't fret: it's happening in conjunction with the Geminid meteor shower.

How are meteors formed?

A meteor forms when a meteoroid, a type of space rock that breaks off from an asteroid﹘a rocky body orbiting the sun﹘enters Earth's atmosphere. As soon as the space debris crosses over, it breaks down into what scientists call a "meteor," which then vaporizes and﹘as a result of friction﹘appears as a bright streak of light in the sky.

"Because of their appearance, these streaks of light some people call meteors 'shooting stars,'" NASA explains in a blog post. "But scientists know that meteors are not stars at all — they are just bits of rock!"

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