When the Death Star was blasted into the oblivion of a million bits of debris, it left a bit of a mess to be cleaned up. Of course, no one bothered. They were too busy drinking themselves into a stupor at the Mos Eisley Cantina. The debris ended up doing what most space debris does: floating along in blissful ignorance until a planetary mass exerted an inexorable gravitational pull, thus giving the debris a final, brilliant end as it burned up upon entry into Tatooine (or wherever it happened to end up).
This winter's best meteor showers also happen to be made up of space debris, but their origins are a bit more prosaic. These celestial events happen thanks to comets, which spit off trails of debris, some of which is captured by Earth's gravity, resulting in a show that might not rival the death of the Death Star, but is pretty fine nonetheless.
Here are three of our favorites:
Geminids (Dec. 13-14)
The Geminid event is considered by many to be one of the best showers of the year, generating "falling stars" at the rate of one per minute. Reliable and active, the meteors appear to be from the constellation of Gemini. In reality, they are created by debris from an asteroid, 3200 Paethon. This month promises to be an excellent time to catch the show, with a crescent moon setting early in the evening to ensure maximum viewing opportunities.
Ursids (Dec. 21-22)
Not quite as active as the Geminid shower, the Ursid event produces five to 10 meteors per hour. In 2015, this event will peak on the night of Dec. 21, with the best viewing after midnight due to a waxing gibbous moon.
Quadrantid (Jan. 3-4)
Go to bed early on New Year's Eve and save your energy for the Quadrantids. Peaking on Jan. 3, with up to 40 meteors per hour, the Quadrantids are produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. The second-quarter moon means that the best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
Watch Well: Four tips to get the most out of meteors in the winter.
Check your forecast: If the sky is not going to be clear, don’t bother.
Dress well: It’s winter, remember? Bundle up and don’t be afraid to compliment the down jacket with a sleeping bag or blanket.
Pick your spot: Avoid places with light pollution. Anywhere away from cities or towns will be good.
Be patient: Give your eyes time to adjust and understand that meteors may fall in “bursts” rather than continuously.