Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Geminids and Phaeton
The annual Geminid meteor shower reached its peak on Monday. This meteor shower gets the name "Geminids" because it appears to radiate from the constellation Gemini.
On December 13th, Earth passed through a stream of debris from extinct comet 3200 Phaethon. The encounter produced a surge of more than 160 Geminid meteors per hour. The timing of the peak favored observers in Europe and the Middle East, many of whom said it was the finest display of Geminids they had ever seen.
The Geminids have a reputation for being a bit of a mystery. Most meteor showers are historic, documented and recorded for hundred of years, and we know them as being cometary debris. But according to the article Phaeton Place:Inside the Geminid Meteor Shower, "When astronomers first began looking for the Geminids' parent comet, they found none. After decades of searching, it wasn't until October 11, 1983 that Simon Green and John K. Davies, using data from NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite, detected an orbital object which the next night was confirmed by Charles Kowal to match the Geminid meteoroid stream. But this was no comet, it was an asteroid."
So initially this 'asteroid' was designated as 1983 TB, but later renamed 3200 Phaethon. The original hypothesis was that since Phaethon's orbit passes through the asteroid belt, it may have collided with other asteroids, creating rocky debris. It used to be believed that comets didn't break up. But the more it was studied, it became clear that this asteroid behaved like a comet without developing a tail. Phaethon is probably an extinct comet that has gathered a thick layer of interplanetary dust during its travels, yet retains the ice-like nucleus.
What is also intriguing is that the Geminid meteor shower rate has been increasing. Jupiter has been attracting the shards of Phaeton and its meteoroid stream as well as drawing it closer and closer to Earth's orbit.
In Greek mythology Phaeton is either the son of Helios, the sun god; or son of Eos, the Dawn Goddess. In Ovid's Metamorphoses Phaeton seeks assurance that his mother, Clymene, is telling the truth that his father is indeed the sun god Helios. After receiving his father's promise to drive the sun chariot as proof of paternity, Phaeton fails to control it leaving the Earth in danger of burning up.
Zeus sends a thunderbolt to prevent the disaster and kills Phaeton.
The name Phaeton means the "shining" and may also refer to the Morningstar, Venus also called Lucifer, the lightbringer. The Minoans called Phaeton Adymus, by which they meant the morning and evening star. I can't help but wonder if the myth has some astronomical meaning or reference? Some astronomers believe that in the distant past Venus was knocked out of its orbit. Could Zeus's thunderbolt be a natural, or artificial (ie by alien astronauts) rectification to save the Earth? Is that why Venus is such a barren and hostile planet?
I've been fascinated with the idea of Venus as the harbinger of destruction as illustrated in my Friday the 13th post, Sunspots, Venus Cycles, and Influenza. It was first suggested in Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (1950). In this intensely controversial book, Velikovsky argued that many seemingly unbelievable stories in the Old Testament are actually true recollections of times when Venus nearly collided with the Earth – when it was still a comet and had not yet become the docile planet that we know today. He contended that Venus caused most of strange events of the Exodus. He cites legends in many other cultures indicating that the effects of the near-collision were global. The scientific community rejected his wildly unorthodox book, however it became a bestseller. And this idea still makes apocalyptic headlines.
The truth is our universe is a dynamic sea of rocky and energetic travelers. Whether asteroid, meteors, or cosmic rays, all are heralds of change, and cyclical evolution in which even the children of the gods may fall. What is intriguing to me is the protective act of intercession that is also described in mythology. Be it alien intervention, boons of the gods, protective CMEs discharged from an intelligent Sun, or cosmic intelligence in the form of gamma rays, we are not only its beloved children, but perhaps 'it' too.
And one final note, the timing of this years Geminids also coincides with the last days of Venus being in the morning star position. On January 13, 2010 Venus will make an inferior conjunction with the Sun and shamanically transforming into Venus Evening star, Hesparus, goddess of love, until October 2010. Let's hope this means that its powers of wisdom, charm, grace and control over the unconscious asuras will return to full strength and inspire world peace and love within each and every one of us.