Halley’s Comet hasn’t visited Earth since 1986 but her dust arrives like clockwork every year. Peaking May 5-6, the eta Aquarid meteor shower promises diligent sky-watchers in both hemispheres a reliable show. Southern hemispheres win the Aquarid toss with roughly double the pleasure – 60 vs. 30 per hour. Halley herself returns in July of 2061.
The radiant point is constellation Aquarius, hence the name Aquarid. Aquarius doesn’t rise much above the horizon in northern hemisphere skies during May, the reason for fewer visible bursts of light. Not to be discouraged, low horizon meteors often appear as “Earth-grazers” – slow, horizontal, lingering manifestations of cosmic ass kickery.
I can’t promise fireworks, but if you happen to rise before dawn – take a moment to gaze at the sky.
Tomorrow the annual Geminid meteor shower peaks. Every December Earth crosses paths with asteroid 3200 Phaethon – more accurately, asteroid junk left behind when Phaeton orbits extremely close to the sun. Extreme solar heat causes expansion and “cracking”, a process responsible for trails of asteroid debris. 3200 Phaethon may be a paltry 5 Km. across, yet delivers a respectable average of 120 meteors an hour.
Technically visible anywhere on the planet, Geminids are considered a Northern Hemisphere show.Named for their radiant point, constellation Gemini – the higher Gemini rises, the more fireballs we see. Northern latitudes lay eyes on a early rising, high soaring Gemini, southern latitudes can still say hello – they just have to wait a little longer (or earlier if you consider pre-dawn morning).
Gaze toward the eastern horizon – Gemini reaches its highest point around 2 AM. Get away from city lights, settle in, give yourself 20 minutes oor so until your eyes adjust, and above all – happy Geminids.
Just because I like something doesn’t mean others have to feel the same way. If raw oysters make you hurl, my enthusiasm will annoy long before stifling a gag reflex. Interests, like tastes are personal – not to be judged, put down, ridiculed or forced on those around us. The open minded are at least willing to dip their toe into unfamiliar waters – should those puddles fail to live up to hype, understandable rational of “I don’t see what all the fuss is about”can hardly be criticized.
Grasping this concept is one thing, letting it go at that is another.
Just once I’d like a break tossed my way. Writing about solar flares, space weather, astronomical references or meteor showers comes from a place so sincere it’s almost comical. I feel like the little Notes who cried wolf – eyes roll, patronizing little remarks “oh. that’s interesting” – I’m sick and tired of cosmic restraint.
Comet 209P/LINEAR was supposed to validate my goofy space grin. Finally, a cosmic event poised to deliver. The wettest of party pooping astronomers predicted upwards of 200 meteors an hour – cheerfully optimistic science scoundrels whispered of meteor storms. This was going to be great – in my lifetime, an unexpected cosmic slap to remind us of our neglect and woeful indifference to the universe.
So what did we get? Five to ten meteors an hour, followed by a hasty gabba gabba back talking announcement that science perhaps miscalculated the orbit and the “show” might take place in a few hours or days. Oh please! I can’t take much more of this bait and switch.
My last meteor watch post sucked because the web cam I linked to only lets you watch for a minute before asking for $29.95. Hoping to rectify the situation in time – a link to Marshall Space Flight Center…
Only a few more sleeps until May 24 and the much anticipated Camelopardalid meteor shower. A cosmic event void of any reference points, a never before encounter with debris from Comet 209P Linear. Science offers a “best guess” of peak action between 2 and 4 AM EDT on May 24. Estimates range from 200 – 1000 meteors an hour, cautioning this is pure speculation based on projections and models taken from available data. As an unknown event, it’s possible outbursts could occur suddenly at any time on the 24th.
Earth isn’t the only recipient of 209’s debris trail – the Moon is in line for meteor action. If you have a backyard telescope, time to dust it off and focus on possible explosions as cosmic dust impacts the crescent moon.
Nobody really knows for sure what will transpire on the 24th. We know every speck of debris left behind since 1803 is out there somewhere – we don’t know if that amounts to a hill of beans. Meteor storm or cosmic fizzle – if your sky is clear, take a leap of faith and gaze at the sky. If you can’t be bothered or need your beauty sleep – the link below the picture will direct you to a meteor cam poised to capture the show, as well as great background information. For those in a hurry – directly below is a link to the meteor cam.
Meteor showers are unpredictable. I would be a sorry advocate for all things space if on that basis I failed to mention their possibilities. Recent Eta Aquarids eluded detection in my corner of the world – uncooperative cloud cover having no use for the whims of star gazers. Undaunted, a recent announcement by NASA has my pondering heart aflutter.
Mark May 24 on your calendar as a possible meteor circus – particularly for those is the northern hemisphere. On that day our orbit will pass a heap of cosmic junk left behind by 209P/LINEAR, a new comet heralding a never before witnessed meteor shower. Giddy predictions peg the show at upwards of 200 meteors an hour with the giddiest of scientific minds calling for a meteor storm.
Dubbed the May Camelopardalids for a radiant point in the distant constellation Camelopardalis, one contributing factor to a possible bonanza is the fact all cosmic tailing expelled between 1803 and 1924 will light up our skies on May 23 and early on the 24th. Cautious science favors a “wet blanket” estimate of around 200 meteors an hour, claiming 209P/LINEAR has a weak dust trail. Even this party pooper prediction rivals the Persiads for one heck of a show.
To reach “meteor storm” status a lofty 1000 per hour would have to pepper night skies. Just knowing that at the very least upwards of 200, most likely in the range of 400 meteors an hour plan to dance through the upper atmosphere – makes me swoon in anticipation.
When the Geminid meteor shower peaks on Dec. 13 and 14, a pesky, almost full moon is poised to steal fireball thunder. The annual Geminids are one of the most prolific night shows, with an average of 120 meteors an hour. As if losing ISON wasn’t bad enough; a bright winter moon is expected to reduce visible meteors 2 – 5 fold.
Annual meteor showers result from earth’s orbit intersecting debris from a sun orbiting comet. Radiant point, is the name given to this intersection. Debris from comet 3200 Phaethon happens to intersect our orbit in the vicinity of constellation Gemini, hence – Geminids. To find Gemini, look for the star Castor, low on the east, north-east sky around 9 PM. Castor is one of the brightest stars in the sky and along with Pollux, make up the ” twin brothers ” of Gemini. The reason Geminids produce so many visible meteors is that the constellation and radiant point swing upward; by 2 AM the point is directly above you in the sky. The angle of the radiant, translates into no poor seats for this show – you can see it from anywhere, with 2 AM as your prime time.
This year we have a waxing gibbous moon to deal with – not a deal breaker, but grounds for some new rules. Since the nearly full moon is so bright, you should wait until the moon sets. This year pre-dawn moon set offers the best view. Get out of town – away from city lights – and give yourself a few minutes to adjust to the darkness. Gibbous moon aside – I guarantee you’ll see fireballs – you don’t even have to find Gemini, the Geminids have a crazy way of appearing to come from any direction.