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Thu, 23 Jul 2015 - The meteor "observing season" is starting

Although meteors can be seen on any night during the year, they do tend to be more common during certain months and are, of course, particularly common at the peaks of certain meteor showers, such as the Perseids and the Geminids.

Indeed, for many meteor observers there is a meteor "observing season".

For observers in the UK, this starts in late July and runs through to early January. Not only does this period include nearly all of the main meteor showers, it is also a period during which the level of background sporadic meteor activity is significantly higher.

At the start of this "observing season", we are seeing early activity from the Perseid meteor shower, Do remember however that the Perseid radiant location in late July is somewhat different from that at Perseid maximum. As this chart shows, the Perseids of late July radiate from a location below the 'W' of Cassiopeia:

We are also seeing activity from a number of meteor shower radiants in the southern ecliptic area, most notably the southern Delta Aquarids (peak July 28-29) and the Alpha Capricornids (peak Aug 1-2).

Unfortunately, the peaks of these latter two showers are hit somewhat this year by the Full Moon of July 31. The only mitigating factor is that the Full Moon will be rather low in the southern sky and so the sky background in the northern half of the sky should still be reasonably dark .

Moonlight will also affect observations of the early Perseids - following Full Moon, the Moon is very slow to move out of the evening sky and is also moving closer to the Perseid radiant. 

From around Aug 7 onwards, however, the Moon's interference rapidly diminishes and it will be absent from the night sky for Perseid maximum (Aug 12-13).

Following the Perseids, there are no major showers active until mid October. There are, however, a number of minor showers active, including the September Perseids (peak Sep 9) and the level of sporadic meteor activity remains quite good.

The Orionids peak during Oct 20-23 and should produce good rates after midnight when the Moon is absent and the radiant is becoming high in the sky.

Alongside the Orionids and continuing into November, we see activity from the northern and southern branches of the Taurid meteor shower. Taurid activity is relatively low - maybe half a dozen or so meteors seen per hour, but does add to the meteor activity seen from the sporadic background and the Taurids do at times produce some quite impressive fireballs.

The Leonids (peak Nov 17-18) are active in mid Noveber and do produce a good number of meteors late in the night, but no enhancements in activity are expected.

December produces the best meteor shower of the year - the Geminids (peak Dec 13-14). Although the nights can be rather cold in December, it is certainly worth making the effort to see them if the skies are clear. Moonlight will not be a problem in 2015.

The Ursids, which are active in the run up to Christmas, are arther badly affected by moonlight this year.

Finally, the "season" ends with the Quadrantids of early January. Their peak is rather narrow and so you need to observe close to it as possible. In 2016, the peak is predicted for 7am GMT on Jan 4, which means that the best rates will be seen in the pre-dawn hours of Jan 4 which, rather helpfully, is when the Quadrantid radiant is high in the sky.

For further information about these meteor showers, see our Meteor Showers Guide

Finally, a reminder of the Observing Guides available via the SPA Meteor pages:

Guide to visual meteor observing

Imaging meteors using a DSLR camera

Imaging meteors using a video camera

Meteor Spectra overview

Meteor observing at Radio wavelengths


Added by: Tracie Heywood