Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Drunk on Astronomy - Shooting Star Pinot Noir

The next Drunk on Geology post is for Shooting Star Pinot Noir from the VML Winery in Healdsburg, CA. 

VML Winery has these absolutely gorgeous labels for some of their wines which denote different cosmological features such as "Sun", "Earth", and here "Shooting Star". For those who don't know, a shooting star is not actually a star at all, but occurs when a bit of rock or other debris enters into the Earth's atmosphere, creating a streak of heated air upon entry. These pieces of rock or other debris can either completely burn up, or only partially burn up, with the remaining portion of the debris coming into contact with the Earth. 

Scientists have several different names for the rocks that travel through our solar system depending on how they interact with the Earth and it's atmosphere. The most general is a meteoroid, which are chunks of rock that are floating in space that are smaller than a kilometer in diameter. A meteor is what would be the scientific term for a "shooting star". These are the flash of light that you see when a meteoroid enters the atmosphere. It is good to note that the meteor specifically refers to the flash of light itself, not the actual object, which is still referred to as a meteoroid. Once that bit of debris reaches the surface of the Earth, it is then identified as a meteorite. 

Two other major objects that travel through the solar system are comets and asteroids. Comets are bodies of ice, rock, and organic compounds that can be up to several miles in diameter that are thought to originate beyond the orbits of the outermost planets. Asteroids are large, rocky bodies (greater than a kilometer in diameter) in orbit around the sun. Asteroids can be composed of rock or metal, like nickel and iron, and most are thought to have formed from the incomplete formation of a rocky planet between Mars and Jupiter, now known as the Asteroid Belt. 

During various times of year there are events known as "meteor showers", this is when there are numerous shooting stars across the sky generally within a short period of time. Although named for the constellation in the sky at the time of the events, these meteor showers are a result of debris shed off from the tails of comets or asteroids as they orbit through the solar system. These are the major meteor showers during the year and when they occur:

Quadrantids        December/January
Lyrids                  April
Perseids               August
Orionids              October
Leonids               November
Geminids            December

The path of Earth crosses various comet's orbits throughout the year creating fields of debris through which the Earth then travels. Image courtesy of NASA

The Quadrantids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of asteroid 2003 EH1. Asteroid 2003 EH1 takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun once. It is possible that 2003 EH is a "dead comet" or a new kind of object being discussed by astronomers called a "rock comet."

The Lyrids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered on 5 April 1861 by A. E. Thatcher.

The Perseids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which takes 133 years to orbit the sun. 

The Orionids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of comet 1P/Halley (i.e. Halley's Comet), which takes 76 years to orbit the sun and was named after Edmund Halley who accurately predicted the orbit time and when the comet would next arrive. 

The Leonids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, which takes 33 years to orbit the sun.

The Geminids Meteor Shower is produced by the orbit of  asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which takes 1.4 years to orbit the sun. Phaethon is also considered to be possibly a "dead comet" or a "rock comet."


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