Meteor Showers

Meteor Showers

A casual observer may watch the sky at night and see 3 to 5 sporadic meteors per hour. However, on some nights, this number may increase markedly, and on projecting the paths of the meteors back, we find that many appear to radiate from a tiny area in the sky. This point or place is termed the radiant of the meteor shower.

The Northern Taurids are active from 20 October to 10 December, with their peak around 12 November. Taurids are frequently bright, slow-moving, and noted for producing colourful fireballs (although not every year). They are associated with Comet 2P/Encke and can be seen from late evening to early morning. The waxing crescent Moon will impair viewing during peak until it sets a little after midnight.

Figure 1: Finder chart for radiant of the Northern Taurid Meteor Shower

The Leonids is one of the better-known showers. The Leonids are best known for producing meteor storms in 1833, 1866, 1966, 1999, and 2001. These outbursts of meteor activity are best seen when the parent object, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, is near perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun.

Yet, it is not the fresh material we see from the comet but instead consists of debris from earlier returns that also happen to be most dense at the same time. Unfortunately, it appears that the Earth will not encounter any more dense clouds of debris until 2099. Therefore, when the comet returns in 2031 and 2064, there will be no meteor storms, but perhaps several good displays of Leonid activity when rates are more than 100 per hour.

The best we can hope for now until the year 2030 is peaks of around 15 shower members per hour and perhaps an occasional weak outburst when the Earth passes near a debris trail.

The Leonids are often bright meteors with a high percentage of persistent trains. The shower is active from the 6th to the 30th. A maximum peak of around 15 meteors per hour is predicted for the morning of the 18th. Since Leo rises after midnight, there will only be a few hours available before the onset of dawn for observation. The near Full Moon will make it difficult for all but the brightest Leonids to be visible during the peak.

Figure 2: Finding Leo….4am 19 November 2021

The alpha-Monocerotids are a minor shower, with unusual short-lived outbursts. Active from 15th to 25th, they are expected to peak around the 21st and are best seen after midnight. While the zenith hourly rate is variable, very high rates have been recorded occasionally over the years. Like the Leonids, the Moon will be an issue during the peak this year.

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Clear Skies!
Donna

Donna the Astronomer

I am a keen astronomer lucky enough to live and work in Coonabarabran the Astronomy Capital of Australia! I am a ‘Drover’s Brat’ and discoverer of a couple of comets and asteroids. I operate Milroy Observatory and can show you how to best integrate dark sky experiences into your tourism, farm stay or AirBnB business.

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