Northern Taurid Meteors

7x50 Binoculars

7×50 Binoculars

   Given all the ‘fanfare’ to annual meteor showers like the Perseids in August often the annual minor meteor showers are overlooked. Currently we are more or less at the mid-point during the Northern Taurid Meteor Shower. This meteor shower peaks during the coming night hours tonight and into tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. With a ZHR (zenith hourly rate) of only 5 don’t expect a lot of shooting stars. However this minor meteor shower has, in the past, had an outburst of fast meteors and some fireballs.
Click on graphic to see it full size.

Click on graphic to see it full size.

   All meteor showers are named for the constellation that they appear to radiate outward from. The common point within the constellation where the meteors radiate outward from is called the radiant. The Northern Taurids radiant is very close to the open star cluster the Pleiades in Taurus the Bull as the animated graphic above shows. This part of the sky rises during mid-evening local time however the waxing gibbous Moon is over the southern horizon and brightening the sky. The best viewing time will be at or after moonset which is around 2 am local time. This graphic is set for 5 am CST, well after moonset.

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Quadrantids Meteor Shower

3 January - 4:00 a.m. CST

3 January – 4:00 a.m. CST

   There has been an increase in news noise about viewing the Quadrantid Meteor Shower during the early hours of tomorrow (Thursday) morning. But none have mentioned that the Moon also rises at about the same time as the radiant for the meteor shower, and that reflected light from the waning gibbous Moon will ‘drown’ out all but the brightest of the meteors. Sigh!!!
   However the average hourly rate for this meteor shower ranges from 60 to several hundred so I think there are good odds that some meteors will still be seen despite the interference from moonlight. To maximize the viewing wait until about an hour or so before dawn when the radiant is high above the horizon, then face northward putting the Moon behind you.
Boötes the Herdsman

Boötes the Herdsman

   The radiant is the area from where the meteors seem to radiate outward from. Meteor showers owe their name to the constellation region the radiant is located within and as this graphic shows the radiant is within the boundary of the constellation Boötes the Herdsman. So why the name Quadrantids?
   On some of the older star charts there is a now ‘extinct’ constellation called Quadrans Muralis, the Mural. This was a constellation located between Boötes and Draco the Dragon that was created in 1795 by French Astronomer Jérôme Lalande. The Meteor Shower was named for the no longer used constellation.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

A Tale of Two Showers

13 December - 10 pm CST

13 December – 10 pm CST

   After sunset on Thursday December 13th look toward the east or west for ‘shooting stars’, or meteors. Toward the east the short-lived streaks of light are radiating outward from the area of the Gemini Twins constellation. These are the annual Geminids – one of the best meteor showers each year, and at times rivaling the August Perseids. The Geminid Meteor Shower is named for the constellation that the meteors radiate outward from. This is the same for all meteor showers, and the ‘spot’ in the sky is known as the radiant. The Geminid radiant, as shown in the graphic, is just above the ‘twin’ star Castor, and under ideal viewing conditions an average of about 70 meteors per hour could possibly be seen. This year without the interference of moonlight will increase the chances of seeing the meteors.
   Meteor showers result from the Earth’s orbital path intersecting areas of comet debris. Comets, as they orbit the Sun, leave behind pieces of their icy, dirty, selves. If these debris clouds happen to be along the Earth’s orbital path then the Earth will regularly pass through the comet debris cloud. As this happens the small comet pieces hit our outer atmosphere and vaporize from the friction generated heat. We then see these as the shooting stars that make up meteor showers.
   There are, however, two exceptions to this. The January Quadrantid Meteors and the Geminids each come from their own respective asteroid rather than a comet. The source for the Geminids is Asteroid 3200 Phaethon
Un-named Meteor Shower   Looking toward the south to southwest and adding to viewing the Geminids is an un-named meteor shower with a radiant just below the bottom of the ‘Square of Pegasus’, between the ‘square’ and the ‘Circlet’ pattern of stars forming the head of the Western Fish of Pisces the Fishes. This meteor shower originates from Comet Wirtanen, a short-period comet orbiting the Sun every 5.5 years. The comet was discovered in 1948 and according to some predictions the Earth may pass through this comet’s debris cloud for the first time since the comet’s discovery. This part of the sky is over the south at sunset and as this graphic shows the radiant is over the southwest as the Geminids radiant is over the eastern horizon.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.