Leonid Meteor Shower

The Leonids are one of the better known annual meteor showers. Some years see high Leonid activity, with amazing numbers of meteors. This shower has occasionally created true meteor storms. Unfortunately 2014 is not predicted to be one of those years, with very modest numbers expected.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
The shower will peak on November 17 around 22:00UT, with an expected ZHR of around 15 meteors per hour. While this occurs in the middle of the day for the islands, the Leonids exhibit a broad peak allowing viewing for days before and after maximum. Moonlight should not be a problem with a thin waning crescent in the sky.

Due to the gravitational influence of Jupiter, the Leonids are not expected to produce any exceptional showers for some decades. We are unlikely to see any repeats of the early 21st century storms anytime soon.

A Dearth of Camelopardalids

A possible meteor shower, a dark. moonless night, the beautiful skies of Mauna Kea… Why not plan for a trip up the mountain? We all hoped that the new meteor shower would produce a show for us. If not, it would be a dark night with a late rising crescent moon. As I would be working the holiday on Monday, I took Friday off, did some chores around the house and packed my gear.

Meteor Photo Rig
The mount with four cameras mounted on top hoping for meteors. Photo by Raymond Lara.
I brought two bit of kits with which to enjoy the night. First was my old Losmandy mount to be used as a camera platform. Using a tracking mount would allow longer exposures and nice starfields against which to capture any possible meteors. I had along a long plate with five camera ball mounts, something Chris lent me. As expected, as soon as the others saw this there were plenty of volunteers looking for a spot on one of the mounts. Four cameras rode the mount for the evening, hoping to catch a few meteors.

The second bit of kit was Deep Violet, my 18″ telescope. As usual, setting up the big scope quickly gathered a crowd. The line did not dissipate until well after 10pm, a steady flow of visitors hoping to check out the view in the largest telescope present.

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Comet 209P LINEAR Meteor Shower Reminder

A reminder that there is the possibility of a strong meteor shower this evening. The Earth may pass through a cloud of debris left by comet 209P/LINEAR. Sky watchers should observe around 21:00 to 22:00HST on the evening of May 23rd.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
North America and the North Pacific is favored for visibility. If it occurs the peak will be short and sweet, lasting about an hour. Fortunately for us in the islands this is predicted for mid-evening hours, from 7-8UT on the 24th (21-22HST on the 23rd). Predictions for the shower range from minor to spectacular. The meteors will seem to radiate from a part of the sky occupied by the dim constellation Camelopardalis, thus some are dubbing this shower the Camelopardalids.

For Hawai’i the radiant will be low in the north, about 20 degrees above the horizon, near Polaris. This means that any meteors we see will be hitting the atmosphere at a low angle. Combined with the low speed of the meteors this could lead to very showy bolides streaking across much of the sky.

As with any meteor shower, any predictions are to be taken with a large dose of skepticism. It is important to point out that meteor prediction is not an exact science, rather a bit of an art form. In this case there are any number of unknowns involved, we could see nothing, we could see a true meteor storm. This event could be anything from “meh” to “oh wow!!!”. To their credit, the folks making these predictions have been impressively right on several recent showers.

I would strongly suggest that you at least take an effort to step outside after 9pm on Friday evening and see what the sky has to offer. All you need is a clear dark sky.

A Different Meteor Shower

The meteor wildcard of 2014 is something new. Several meteor experts are predicting a possible shower from comet 209P/LINEAR. The Earth will pass close to the debris stream from this comet in late May this year, possibly creating a decent meteor shower, or even a meteor storm.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
I could write up the whole description, or just let you read a nice summary from the IMO website…

Of greatest potential significance this quarter, indeed this year, is an encounter between the Earth and a number of dust trails left by Comet 209P/LINEAR at its perihelion returns within twenty years to either side of 1900 AD. Several predictions have already been issued for what may occur, and further updates are likely nearer the event. Based on the most recent independent calculations by Esko Lyytinen, Mikhail Maslov and J´er´emie Vaubaillon, the strongest activity from this source should happen on May 24, most likely between about 07h to 08h UT from a radiant near the borders of Lynx, Ursa Major and Camelopardalis, quite close to o UMa. The predicted radiant locations fall within a few degrees of α = 124° , δ = +79° . Timings in UT for the centre of the strongest activity overall are around 07h 03m (Lyytinen), 07h 21m (Maslov) and 07h 40m (Vaubaillon) respectively.

However, much is unknown about this comet, including its dust productivity and even its precise orbit. Consequently, while tentative proposals have been made that ZHRs at best could reach 100+, perhaps up to storm proportions, based purely on the relative approach distances between the Earth and the computed dust trails, these are far from certain. The strongest activity could be short lived too, lasting perhaps between a few minutes to a fraction of an hour only. In addition, the number of dust trails involved means there may be more than one peak, and that others could happen outside the “key hour” period, so observers at suitable locations are urged to be vigilant for as long as possible to either side of the predicted event to record whatever takes place.

Remember, there are no guarantees in meteor astronomy! Lunar observing circumstances are very positive, with May’s new Moon on the 28th. The north-circumpolar radiant area for many sites means the three main geographic zones where most radio observers are located – Europe, North America and Japan – should be able to follow all that occurs, interference permitting. The time of year means the northern nights are close to their shortest for visual and imaging work, but the predicted strongest activity timings fall perfectly for night-time coverage all across North America and the nearby oceans to its east and west.
IMO Website 2014 Calendar

The takeaway from what we know… This shower is highly uncertain, we could get anything from nothing to meteor storm. The peak will be short and sharp, lasting only a few hours. With a peak near 07:00-08:00hUT on May 24th, observers in the Pacific should be alert from 21:00 to 22:00HST on the evening of the 23rd. New Moon occurs on the 28th, indicating there should be no moonlight to contend with.

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The first meteor shower of 2014 is the annual Quadrantid meteor shower. The Quadrantids are a reliable shower, producing 60-120 ZHR, one to two meteors per minute. The Quadrantids are named for the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, now part of the constellation Boötes.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
Unlike other showers where activity can occur for days or even weeks, the Quadrantids have a sharp peak, activity falls off rapidly on the preceding and following nights, or even a few hours away from the peak. Thus it is important to observe the Quadrantids quite near the peak prediction. For 2014 the peak is predicted for January 3rd around 19:30UT, or 09:30HST on this side of the globe. The best timing for observers in the islands is during the predawn hours of January 3rd, a few hours before peak, the best we have for this year. The good news is that the night will be nearly moonless, with wonderfully dark conditions for observing.

Watching meteors requires no more equipment than your eyes and a dark sky, and can be enjoyable for just about anyone. Set the alarm early?

Geminid Meteor Shower

The annual Geminid meteor shower has become one of the most reliable annual meteor showers. First observed over 150 years ago this is a interesting meteor shower. The parent body for the Geminids is not a comet, but rather the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. It is somewhat of a mystery how this mostly rocky body gives rise to the debris stream needed to generate a meteor shower.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
The shower peak is predicted for December 14th, at 05:45UT (13Dec 19:45HST). For viewers in the central Pacific this favors the evening of Dec 13th into the morning of Dec 14th, starting around 8pm as Gemini rises in the east.

While the 2013 Geminids are expected to just as numerous as usual, viewing will be hampered by a bright Moon in the sky. Full Moon occurs on the 16th, placing peak just a few days before full. This puts a big, bright Moon in the sky for much of the night. Certainly the brighter fireballs will be easily visible, but the dim meteors will be lost to the moonlight. A dedicated observer might make use of the small window of time between moonset at 5:24am and sunrise about 06:50am on the morning of the 14th.

Watching meteors requires no more equipment than your eyes and a dark sky, and can be enjoyable for just about anyone.

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseids are one of the most watched meteor showers. Occurring during northern hemisphere summer, the shower can be appreciated on a summer night. Quite a difference from the other reliable showers such as the Leonids and Quadrantids, that occur in November and January. Consider a warm summer night under a dark sky full of stars, a picnic blanket, relaxing while shooting stars streak across the sky. What could be better?

The Perseid meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through a stream of debris along the orbit of Comet Swift-Tuttle. This shower has been consistent throughout recorded history, mentioned in Chinese, Japanese and Korean records as early as the 1st century. Active from July 17th to August 24th, the shower will build slowly for weeks before the peak. A week before or after peak the shower can still be seen with around 20 meteors each hour. The shower is a northern hemisphere event, for southern observers the radiant never rises above the horizon.

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Southern Delta Aquariids

The Southern Delta Aquariid meteor shower will peak this weekend. This reliable shower usually produces 10-20 meteors per hour. The peak will occur on July 27th this year. As the shower has a broad peak there should still be a good showing a few days either side of peak.

As we are past new Moon there is some dark sky available in the evening, best viewing for this shower is in the morning, when a bright 60% Moon will rise. Moonrise will occur around 22:00HST on the 27th and 22:43 on the 28th. The radiant for this shower will rise at 09:22HST. This provides a slim window of darkness to attempt meteor viewing. After rising, the moonlight will dim the prospects for viewing the shower.

Eta-Aquariid Meteor Shower

The early hours of dawn on May 5th will see the peak of the ηAquariid meteor shower. This is a reliable shower that produces anywhere from 30-80 meteors each hour near peak. Resulting from debris left behind by Comet 1P/Halley this shower approaches the Earth from the direction of the constellation Aquarius. As this constellation is quite low in the sky during the shower the meteors are entering the atmosphere at a low angle, this often results in meteors with long trains crossing much of the sky. A good shower that produces great fireballs.

Leonids in Orion
A pair of Leonid meteors streak through Orion
The ηAquariids seem to peak in activity every 12 years. As we are approaching the lull in this cycle it is likely that 2013 will produce a modest showing. That said, meteor prediction is an inexact science, no way of knowing ahead of time how good the shower will be.

IMO analyses in recent years, based on data collected between 1984–2001, have shown that ZHRs are generally above 30 between about May 3–10, and that the peak rates appear to be variable on a roughly 12-year timescale. Assuming this Jupiter-influenced cycle is borne-out, the next trough is due around 2014–2016, so ZHRs should be relatively modest in 2013, according to this idea – IMO website

The ηAquariid shower has a broad peak with several weeks of activity either side of the peak. The entire meteor shower lasts from around April 19 to May 28. Any morning from May 3rd to May 10th can be worth watching with rates to around 30 meteors per hour. The peak itself is predicted for 01:00UT on May 6th (15:00HST May 5th), but this shower often produces subpeaks as the Earth passes through clouds of debris left on successive orbits of Halley’s Comet.

The radiant for the ηAquariid shower does not rise until the last few hours of dark, about 2:30am, making this an early morning observing exercise. 2013 does offer decent viewing conditions, with only a slim waning Moon on the day of peak activity and new Moon occurring a few days later on the 10th. Remember, meteor watching can be enjoyed without any special equipment, just a dark sky and a safe place to watch from. Perhaps a good reason to get out under a dark sky? But then, should you ever need a reason to go observing, just go.