Meteor outburst “likely” – but for 15 minutes

Researchers in the US and Finland have predicted an outburst of a little-known meteor shower called the Alpha Monocerotids  ̶  but, they say, the outburst may last only 15 minutes!

The outburst is due to a dust stream from a comet which the Earth crossed four times in the past century, the last occasion being in 1995.  On that occasion, meteors were seen at rates of up to 700 an hour, though for a short time only. So meteors could appear at a rate greater than one a second, given ideal conditions.

The peak of the outburst can be pinned down to a very precise time ‒ 4:50 in the morning of Friday 22 November 2019. Its duration, based on previous observations, could be as little as 15 minutes.

The researchers, Esko Lyytinen and Peter Jenniskens, say: “There is a good chance to observe a short-lived outburst of the alpha Monocerotids in the morning of the night 2019 November 21–22. Observers are encouraged to watch for possible alpha Monocerotids in the last hours of the night, from 4h15m UT onwards. If an outburst takes place it is likely to be centered around 4h50m UT with a duration of 15 up to 40 minutes maximum.”

Their prediction has been published by the International Astronomical Union Circulars and also by the International Meteor Organisation.

The meteors will emanate from a point near Alpha Monocerotis, which lies roughly between Procyon and Sirius. A waning crescent Moon will not seriously hamper observations ‒ although the willpower to get up in the early hours of 22 November is a bigger problem!

Radiant of meteors
The radiant of the Alpha Monocerotids lies between Sirius and Procyon in the morning sky. View looking south at 5 am from the UK

Meteors from this shower could appear at any time between 15 and 25 November, although rates are likely to be low, as in previous years. Observers should be on the lookout for any meteors which could be associated with this shower when observing other showers such as the Taurids and Leonids, which are also active at the moment. The radiant rises about 23h, and no meteors from this shower will be seen before that.

Any observations should be sent to our Meteor Section director, Mark McIntyre.