The Perseid meteor shower, an annual celestial event beloved by millions of skywatchers around the world, returns to the night sky this week. And because the Moon will be just past new, no moonlight will hinder the view.
Sky & Telescope magazine predicts that the Perseid shower will be at or near its peak late on Sunday night (late on August 11th and early morning on the 12th) and on Monday night (August 12-13). “The nearly moonless sky this year means the viewing will be excellent,” notes Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope.
Although an occasional Perseid meteor might catch your attention shortly after evening twilight ends, the prime viewing hours are from about 11 p.m. or midnight (local time) until the first light of dawn. This is when the shower’s “radiant,” its perspective point of origin, is high up in your sky. The higher the radiant, the more meteors appear all over the sky.
If it’s clear late Thursday night, December 13th, 2012, keep a lookout high overhead for the shooting stars of the Geminid meteor shower. “The Geminids are usually one of the two best meteor showers of the year,” says Alan MacRobert, senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. “They may beat out the Perseids of August.” This year’s showing has the added benefit of reduced celestial competition — thanks to the new Moon, no moonlight will interfere with meteor counting.
Under a clear, dark sky, you may see a shooting star every minute from 10 p.m. local time Thursday until dawn Friday morning. If you live under the artificial skyglow of light pollution the numbers will be less, but the brightest meteors will still shine through.
The Perseid meteors should put on the peak of their yearly display late this Saturday night and early Sunday morning (August 11-12, 2012). “December’s Geminids often outperform them by a bit,” says Alan MacRobert, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, “but the Perseids are probably the most-watched meteor shower, because they come in the warm vacation season.
Like all meteor showers, the Perseids are named for the constellation from which they appear to radiate. Perseus will hang low in the northeast early on the night of the 11th. The shower will really get underway after 11 or midnight local time, predicts Sky & Telescope, when from a dark site you may spot one or perhaps two Perseids a minute on average. The rate should increase as Perseus gains altitude in the early hours of the 12th. A thick waning crescent Moon will rise around 1 or 2 a.m., “but its glare at this phase will be no big problem,” says MacRobert.
The dramatic appearance of Halley’s comet in the night sky has been observed and recorded by astronomers since 240 BC. Now a study shows that the orbital influences of Jupiter on the comet and the debris it leaves in its wake are responsible for periodic outbursts of activity in the Orionid meteor showers. The results will be presented by Aswin Sekhar at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester on Tuesday 27th March.
Halley’s comet orbits the Sun every 75-76 years on average. As its nucleus approaches the Sun, it heats up and releases gas and dust that form the spectacular tail. This outgassing leaves a trail of debris around the orbit.
When the Earth crosses Halley’s path – twice per orbit – dust particles (meteoroids) burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere and we see meteor showers: the Orionids in October and the Eta Aquariids in May. Previous research has suggested that Orionid meteoroids have at times fallen into ‘resonances’ with Jupiter’s orbit – a numerical relationship that influences orbital behaviour. Sekhar’s new study suggests that Halley itself has been in resonances with Jupiter in the past, which in turn would increase the chances of populating resonant meteoroids in the stream. The particles ejected during those times experience a tendency to clump together due to periodic effects from Jupiter.
This is from Journey to the Stars astronomy blog – check it out, it’s got a lot of great info 🙂
Celestially speaking, 2012 opens with a bang. The Quadrantid meteor shower, one of the best displays of “shooting stars” all year, will peak in the hours before dawn this Wednesday, January 4th. If you get up early, bundle up warmly, and find dark site with a wide-open view of the clear sky, you might see 1 or 2 meteors per minute during the shower’s brief but intense performance.
This year the Quadrantids are predicted to climax at 2 or 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on the morning of January 4th, and this timing offers very good circumstances for North Americans — especially those in the East. On that morning the waxing gibbous Moon sets about 3 a.m. local time (wherever you are), leaving the sky fully dark until dawn begins before or near 6 a.m.
The 2012 Quadrantids, a little-known meteor shower named after an extinct constellation, will present an excellent chance for hardy souls to start the year off with some late-night meteor watching.
Peaking in the wee morning hours of Jan. 4, the Quadrantids have a maximum rate of about 100 per hour, varying between 60-200. The waxing gibbous moon will set around 3 a.m. local time, leaving about two hours of excellent meteor observing before dawn. It’s a good thing, too, because unlike the more famous Perseid and Geminid meteor showers, the Quadrantids only last a few hours — it’s the morning of Jan. 4, or nothing.
Like the Geminids, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid, called 2003 EH1. Dynamical studies suggest that this body could very well be a piece of a comet which broke apart several centuries ago, and that the meteors you will see before dawn on Jan. 4 are the small debris from this fragmentation. After hundreds of years orbiting the sun, they will enter our atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above Earth’s surface — a fiery end to a long journey!