The Orionid meteor shower peaks tomorrow night; while not one of the most prolific displays, with an average of 20 meteors an hour, it remains one of the easiest to locate in a pre dawn sky. Almost everyone has heard of the constellation Orion; distinguished by the distinctive three star “belt”. Find Orion and you’ve found the Orionids. Debris from the tail of Halley’s Comet lights up our skies from constellation Orion shortly before sunrise being the best time to catch a “falling star”.
Image from NASA
This year Orionids are forced to compete with a Hunter’s Moon -also known as a Full Harvest Moon. Luckily they are reliable when it comes to bright fireballs. So if your weather cooperates, haul yourself out of bed and marvel at our universe. I guarantee you’ll start your day with a smile on your face.
June 11, 1930 – Maryland; three members of the American Meteor Society reported seeing an incredibly bright meteor shower. It wasn’t the kind of evening a self respecting meteor watcher would have chosen to gaze at the sky. Overcast skies and a full moon were less than ideal meteor watching conditions. Despite the lousy conditions, and the fact no one else reported seeing them – they remained adamant about what they saw.
Scientists now believe it was the Gamma Delphinids, and 83 years later – they’re coming back -maybe. More of a best guess than a promise, chances are good that for as little as 15 minutes, an hour at most beginning 4:28 AM EDT, the night sky will sparkle with brilliant fast moving meteors.
The Gamma Delphinids meteor shower – if it shows – will appear to radiate from the constellation Delphinus (del-FINE-us) the Dolphin high in the southern sky shortly before dawn tomorrow morning June 11. This map shows the sky facing south at 3:30 a.m. local time. Delphinus is to the east or left of the bottom of the bright 3-star figure the Summer Triangle. Created with Stellarium
(The above paragraph and photo were blatantly lifted from astrobob)
If you can’t find Vega; a bright star, easily visible as a frame of reference – download the Google Sky Map app on your phone. Perhaps staying up all night to maybe wish upon a star isn’t your thing; Sky Map will bring the universe to your doorstep – never again will you ponder what that object in the sky is called.
Halley’s Comet last visited earth in 1986; far beyond the orbit of Uranus, it won’t be back until 2061. Halley laps the solar system approximately every 76 years – though light years away, it leaves behind a trail of cosmic dust. Twice a year our orbit passes this dust trail – in May the Aquarid meteors and in October the Orionids.
The Aquarids – named for their origin in the Aquarius constellation – peak tonight and tomorrow. The southern hemisphere has the best seats for this show with over 50 meteors an hour hitting the atmosphere at 66 Km/second. Northern hemisphere viewers can still see show, even though it’s hampered by Aquarius barely rising above the horizon.
The annual Lyrid meteor shower peaks this coming Monday, April 22. The Lyrid shower looks like it comes from Vega in the Lyra constellation. Vega is a bright star, 3 times larger than our sun, and 25 light years from earth. Lyrids are actually a dust trail from Comet Thatcher – officially known as C/1861 G1. Space dust, typically the size of a grain of sand, hits our atmosphere at 110,000 mph. The Lyrids aren’t known for large numbers of meteors per hour – usually 10 – 20, with peaks that may produce up to 100. “Lyrid fireballs” is the name given to outbursts of brighter meteors that leave a smoky trail behind for a minute or two.
The best time to ponder Lyrids is in the hour or two before sunrise on April 22. Get yourself away from city lights – bundle up; as you lay on your back facing east. An extra bonus for people in the Northern Hemisphere – sunspots AR1726 and 1727 are getting uppity.Any eruptions this weekend would be earth directed meaning geomagnetic storms could bring some strong auroras.
Quadrantid is an annual meteor shower. Originating from debris left by comet 2003 EH1, Quadrantid peaks tonight with an estimated 100 meteors an hour. Finding its source in the night sky is easy; find Polaris (the north star ) and you’ve found Quadrantid.
Unfortunately we have a party crasher. Most people have heard of a “waxing moon” or “waning moon” , both of which are Gibbous moons; the no mans land between half and full. Waxing being on the way to full, waning after a full moon. Tonight’s waning gibbous moon is bright enough to block out all but the brightest meteors.
Fortunately there are plenty more meteor showers. The Lyrids in April will suffer from a pesky waning moon, the Aquarids , Delta Aquarids, Perseids, Draconids, Orionids, Taurids, and Leonids follow. Click on the link to earthsky, bookmark it and plan a magical night of star gazing. Nothing restores the soul like wishing on a falling star.
The weather outside is frightful, the Geminid shower is delightful. Peaking on Dec. 13 and 14, for those willing to bundle up in pre-dawn hours; expect up to 100 meteors an hour. Named the Geminid meteor shower as it appears to come from the direction of constellation Gemini. Geminid is believed to be debris from comet 3200 Phaethon, Phaethon broke apart after one too many close orbits to the sun melted its icy exterior.
According to earthsky.org the best time to witness Geminid is between 1 and 3 AM on Dec. 14. Bundle up, drive far from city lights, and restore your soul.
A bright Geminid meteor pierces the night sky over California’s Mojave Desert in 2009.