The year promised to start and end brightly, with only the summer Aquarid-Capricornid and Perseid shower maxima lost to bright moonlight of the main streams, though of course, the weather can ruin even the most inviting of meteoric years. Fortunately, conditions were relatively helpful in the second half especially, allowing good coverage of the Orionids and Geminids, although skies in the first half across the UK could have been better. Best of all was another splendid Leonid storm, or indeed a pair of storm-strength peaks, which favoured North America and the Far East, while even in Europe, activity was far higher than that in non-storm years. Regrettably, Britain had to endure overcast nights then. Several very notable and widely-seen fireballs happened during the year too, including one of the best-observed rocket re-entry fireballs seen from Britain for about twenty years, on December 1-2.
Grand Totals and Observers
As in 1999, the overall totals for the various observing techniques were massively boosted by the Leonids’ high activity. Interestingly, no photographic results were presented to us for the first time in very many years. All the former photographic observers have apparently switched entirely to using video now, again as reflected in the following statistics. Observing tallies: Visual – 1653.7 hours, 89,698 meteors; Radio – 77,135.4 hours; Video – 5508.5 hours, 45,363 trails. The visual and video tallies were particularly added to by data from the German Arbeitskreis Meteore (AKM) observers, details of which were taken from the AKM’s monthly journal Meteoros kindly sent in by Ina Rendtel, while a still more major visual contribution came from the observers reporting to the American Meteor Society (AMS), as presented in the form of nightly observing summaries in the AMS’s journal Meteor Trails, thoughtfully provided by Bob Lunsford. Notably active AKM observers included Frank Enzlein, Sven Naether, Juergen Rendtel and Roland Winkler (with between 50-130 hours of visual watching each for the year), while the leading AMS reporters were Chester Czescik, Robin Gray, Carl Johannink, Bob Lunsford and Paul Martsching (with annual visual totals amassed of between 30-235 hours – only one over 200 hours however!). As usual, the majority of the radio results were extracted from the Radio Meteor Observation Bulletins (RMOBs), which Chris Steyaert in Belgium helpfully provided.
Reports, ideas, suggestions and comments have come from other observing and non-observing Section correspondents too, which have all helped to complete the picture of meteor activity during the year as presented in the regular SPA News Circular columns and SPA Electronic News Bulletins, our results articles published in the International Meteor Organization’s (IMO’s) bimonthly journal WGN, and our Website reports. Three detailed reports available on this site and in printed formats provide complementary details to those in this Review, not repeated here, on the February 8 and 9, and October 27-28 fireballs, and the Leonids.
The list of people providing observational data directly to us at times not covered by the supplementary reports, and not including those who only provided casual fireball details, follows. All are to be congratulated and thanked for their time and trouble in observing and submitting their data, without which the Section could not continue to function. The listing contains the country most observations were made from, with abbreviations indicating the type of observing carried out. “R” denotes that radio, “Vi” video, and “V” visual results were contributed by that person. Observers without an additional letter provided purely visual data:
Enric Fraile Algeciras (RMOB, Spain; R), members of the AMS (USA), members of the AKM (Germany; Vi/V), Dirk Artoos (Belgium; R), Astroclub Canopus members (Bulgaria; details from observer Eva Bojurova), Belarus observing group members (Belarus; R), John Bonsor (Scotland), Mike Boschat (RMOB, Canada; R), Jay Brausch (USA), Michael Brooke (England), Gabor Bucsi (RMOB, Hungary: R), Dave Campbell (England), Chris Chambers (England), Patrick Decomble (RMOB, France; R), Maurice de Meyere (RMOB, Belgium; R), Steve Evans (England; Vi), Bev Ewen-Smith (Portugal: R/Vi/V), Didier Favre (RMOB, France; R), Ghent University (RMOB, Belgium; R), Shelagh Godwin (England), Patrice Guerin (RMOB, France; R), Pete Gural (USA; Vi), Rafael Haag (RMOB, Brazil; R), Phil Heppenstall (England), Zoltan Hevesi (Hungary), Will Kelsey (RMOB, USA; R), Marco Langbroek (Netherlands), Marc Le Foll (RMOB, France; R), Bob Lunsford (USA), Tony Markham (England), Alastair McBeath (England), Tom McEwan (Scotland), Stan Nelson (RMOB, USA; R), Hiroshi Ogawa (RMOB, Japan; R), Sadao Okamoto (RMOB, Japan; R), Jean Richard (RMOB, France; R), Ton Schoenmaker (RMOB, Netherlands; R), Jonathan Shanklin (England), Mary Siek (England), George Spalding (England), Dave Swan (RMOB, England; R), Kiss Szabolcs (RMOB, Hungary; R), Ervin Szlanicska (RMOB, Slovakia; R), Rich Taibi (USA), Istvan Tepliczky (RMOB, Hungary; R), Pierre Terrier (RMOB, France; R), Ouyang TianJing (RMOB, China; R), Garfield Tsao (RMOB, Taiwan; R), Matthew Waldie (England), Bruce Young (RMOB, Australia; R), Ilkka Yrjola (RMOB, Finland; R).
Poor weather, coupled with problems of countryside access following the awful foot-and-mouth disease outbreak beginning in February and persisting well into the autumn in parts, helped hold the tallies by the leading UK visual observers down to between 20-35 hours of watching each during the year, about the same as in 1999. Elsewhere, and aside from the AKM and AMS observers mentioned earlier, few watchers managed much more than 15-20 hours. Six radio operators covered 300+ days during the year, with four more amassing over 250 days’ worth of data.
Highlights of the Year
Quadrantids: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 65, News Circulars 218 and 220 and our results article in WGN 29:6 (2001 December), pp. 224-228) UK weather was best on January 2-3 during the shower, especially for eastern England, but January 3 brought the highest ZHRs during British daytime, much as expected. The radio and visual peaks occurred between 11h-13h UT (ZHRs of 100+) on January 3. The predicted time was around midday. IMO data showed a peak ZHR of 130 +/- 25 at 13h30m UT +/- 1 hour then, the higher than normal error resulting from sometimes poor observing conditions before the waxing gibbous Moon had set. A secondary radio peak was found around 21h-23h UT on January 3-4, a time for which no reliable visual data are currently available regrettably, which is significantly later than the mainly radio (secondary visual) peak was found in SPAMS results from 2000. In 2000, the gap between the two probable radio maxima was some 3 to 6 hours, as opposed to 8 to 12 hours this time. The magnitude distributions for the 398 Quadrantids and 207 January sporadics seen in good sky conditions, are shown alongside here. Train proportions for the two sources were 7% and 6% respectively. Oddly, no Quadrantid fireballs were recorded during the full watches submitted to us from these better observing circumstances.
January 15-16 Fireball: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 66, News Circular 218, and our results article in WGN 29:6 (2001 December), pp. 224-228) Four observations of a magnitude -5/-6 or brighter fireball at 22h02m UT were received from Scotland. Unfortunately, all the observers were south and west of the meteor’s trajectory, and too few details could be derived for a reliable track, but the meteor probably flew high over the North Sea well off the Scottish east coast.
January Coma Berenicids: (See also Electronic News Bulletins 64 and 67, News Circular 220 and our results article in WGN 29:6 (2001 December), pp. 224-228) As mentioned in last year’s Review, unusual activity around January 24-25 was first suspected in SPAMS data in 1998, and it seems a minor radiant in or near Coma Berenices may be active between January 20-27 at least. Radio and visual results have found something around this time in recent years, the radio results indicating activity may be periodic, but still minor. Observations continue to be urged in future. The 2001 results suggested a possible radiant in western Coma or eastern Leo, centred not far from 11h50m RA, +28 degrees Dec, but this needs more data to confirm and further refine.
January 25-27 Fireballs: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 67, News Circular 218, and our results article in WGN 29:6 (2001 December), pp. 224-228) Three single-observer UK sightings of fireballs were received from January 24-25, about 06h UT, January 25-26, ~19h20m UT, and January 26-27, circa 00h10m UT. Too few details were available to say if they had a similar origin, or whether they might be linked with the possible January Coma Berenicid activity, but curiously, another very brilliant meteor flew across Alberta in Canada around 02h20m UT on January 25-26. A somewhat similar loose fireball “cluster” was seen on 1998 January 24-25 (as noted in our 1998 Review). Even if these are by-chance occurrences, there is the implication that dates around this time are worth checking for fireballs on in years to come, if nothing else!
February 8-9 and 9-10 Fireballs: For details, see Electronic News Bulletin 68, News Circulars 218 and 220, our results article in WGN 29:6 (2001 December), pp. 224-228, but especially the printed and website Report supplementary to this Review, Bright Fireballs from the UK, February 8 and 9, 2001.
The Meteorite That Wasn’t: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 69, News Circular 219 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 38-41) Excited media reports from March 1 suggested a meteorite had landed in the village of Hopgrove, Yorkshire, narrowly missing a woman out walking her dog. Sadly, the smoking, crackling crater turned out to have been caused by a short-circuiting underground electricity cable, not an extraterrestrial rock!
March 13-14 Fireballs: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 70, News Circular 219 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 38-41) Further March media reports indicated one or more fireballs had happened over southern England or the Channel during the evening. One UK sighting was eventually forwarded to us, from ~18h50m UT, and a further fireball report from around 19h50m UT came in from Germany, but not the dozens or more sightings some press notices implied.
MIR Fireball: (See also our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 38-41) The Russian MIR space station re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and burnt up over the southern Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand on March 23, producing a spectacular, long-lasting train of fireballs across the sky for a few lucky watchers (not including any SPAMS observers, however). The TV coverage especially showed all meteor watchers just how extremely slowly a man-made meteor tracks across the sky compared to even a very slow natural meteor.
April 10-11 Fireball: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 73, News Circular 220 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 38-41) This magnitude -3/-4 event at 20h40m UT was reported by six observers in southern England from Surrey and Bedfordshire west to Dorset and Somerset who were out to spot the International Space Station’s (ISS’s) passage, which was just finishing as the fireball took place. Most reports indicated the fireball fragmented late in its flight, but the ISS distraction meant few people could give even a rough estimate for its sky position. The meteor was probably out over the western Channel, perhaps heading from above south Devon towards the Cotentin Peninsula of northern France on an approximately north-west (perhaps NNW) to south-east (or SSE) track.
Lyrids: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 73, News Circular 220 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 38-41) Perfectly moonless conditions for the Lyrid maximum failed to coincide with high-quality observing weather for Britain on April 21-22, although skies were clearer on April 19-20 and 20-21 here. Elsewhere, in Europe and North America, other watchers had better fortune, and ZHRs of 25 +/- 5 were registered by SPAMS reporters almost all night on April 21-22. IMO data too supported a protracted maximum, with ZHRs ~28 +/- 7 lasting from about 18h UT on April 21 to 21h30m UT on April 22. The radio results gave a loosely-defined peak between 07h to 10h UT on April 22, probably centred around 08h30m UT +/- 1 hour. The revised peak timing, based on the recently-discovered ideal maximum (as outlined in the reports in Electronic News Bulletin 84 and News Circular 222. For full details, see: “Thirteen Years of Lyrids from 1988 to 2000”, by A. Dubietis and R. Arlt, WGN 29:4 (2001 August), pp. 119-133), was set for around 09h UT on April 22. This would support the higher than normal ZHRs as well as the radio timing, certainly, though a degree of uncertainty remains concerning the event, and a longer peak than normal does seem to have happened using all the available data.
Eta Aquarids: (See also News Circular 221 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 41-44) Strong moonlight hindered visual Eta Aquarid observing in early May, though UK and other northern European observers did spot a handful near dawn at other times. The maximum was missed visually, but radio reports suggested it had kept to time on May 5-6, with a tail of waning rates persisting until May 7 or 8.
SW3 Meteors: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 76, News Circular 220, our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 41-44, and especially “The Disintegrating Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 and its Meteors”, by H. Luethen, R. Arlt and M. Jaeger, WGN 29:1/2 (2001 February), pp. 15-28) Although nothing was seen associated with this possible new meteor source in 2001 on May 29 or 30, there is the chance that the coming years may produce something. The radiant should be in western Bootes, and extremely slow meteors are likely if any do chance-by. Dates for the next potential encounters are in late May 2011, 2017 and 2022.
June Daytime Radio Shower Activity: (See also our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 41-44) The period from May to July sees some of the very best annual radio meteor activity, all happening in the daytime sky. As in 2000 (see the Annual Review 2000), the 2001 summer daylight meteor “season” saw more annoyingly strong Sporadic-E interference, leading to a lot of gaps in coverage particularly in June and July, the height of the “season”. Despite this, the two leading shower maxima, from the Arietids (June 8) and Zeta Perseids (June 10) were both recovered, during the “bulge” in radio rates found much as normal between about June 6-13. These peak dates are about a day later than radar data from the 1950s to 1970s indicated, but they are exactly in-line with radio results from more recent times (1993-2001).
June Nighttime Shower Activity: (See also News Circular 221 and our results article in WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 41-44) Two possible showers in need of regular checking for, but which may not be visible at all in most years, are the June Lyrids (peak around June 16) and June Bootids (peak on or about June 26 or 27). Only very slight traces of June Lyrid activity were found, which could easily have been just sporadics lining up with the radiant by-chance, and a negative return seems the most probable explanation. No obvious June Bootid activity was visible at all later in the month, although in both cases, it is thanks to the efforts of several dedicated watchers that this valuable information is available. The radio results confirmed these generally negative views.
July 6 Mystery Radio Outburst: (See also our results article in WGN 30:5 (2002 October), pp. 181-184) Our two Japanese radio observers recorded an unusual small spike in meteor activity around 05h15m UT +/- 15 minutes on this date, which was suggested as perhaps being due to another daytime shower, the Beta Taurids. This shower typically reaches a several-day-long maximum near the end of June (rather like its autumnal twin shower-pair of the Northern and Southern Taurids). Oddly, the Beta Taurid radiant should have been readily visible to our European and Australian radio observers, yet none of those systems active then detected anything unexpected. This is most curious, although it is not the first time one or a few radio systems have detected unpredicted meteor activity which the majority of systems failed to find. The nature and origin of this event remains unknown.
Perseids: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 81, News Circular 222 and our results article in WGN 30:5 (2002 October), pp. 181-184) Last quarter moonlight greatly hampered visual observations of the Perseid maxima on August 12, though for British watchers, clouds were a still greater headache. August 10-11 came in as the better night nearest the Perseids’ best here, even then only in eastern and south-eastern England. Mean ZHRs in data from Europe and North America were ~75 +/- 10 on both August 11-12 and 12-13, but our watchers were not best-located to catch the predicted peaks around 14h and 17h UT on the 12th. Preliminary IMO data indicated two possible maxima around August 12, 14h (ZHR ~130) and 20h UT (ZHR ~105), embedded in generally strong rates, ZHRs ~85, from August 11-12 to 12-13. The radio data was badly influenced by Sporadic-E problems, but two possible peaks were found there too, at very roughly 10h UT +/- 2 hours and 19h UT +/- 1 hour on August 12. The latter time was found in significantly more datasets. The “traditional” maximum was due at about this second peak’s timing. The graph here gives the July-August magnitude distributions based on 147 better-sky Perseids and 311 sporadics. The train statistics showed 33% of Perseids left persistent trains, compared to just 4% of sporadics in August.
Orionids: (See also News Circular 224 and our results article in WGN 30:5 (2002 October), pp. 191-198) Excellent lunar circumstances coincided for once with some good weather, and a useful set of results were collected on this shower. The first graph of the two here shows how Orionid ZHRs behaved right across the maximum, with mean datapoints for almost all nights between October 10-11 and 27-28. At best on October 21, mean ZHRs reached 19 +/- 5, so an altogether normal return occurred. The radio results were affected, in Europe especially, by transmitter problems, and auroral interference, and only a general confirmation of the Orionids’ visual activity was possible. Indeed aurorae were seen far down into southern England on October 21-22, creating a distraction even for visual observers! The second graph here gives the Orionid and October sporadic magnitude distributions based on 118 Orionids and 115 sporadics seen under good sky conditions. Some 23% of Orionids left trains, compared to 10% of sporadics. The somewhat fainter than normal Orionid magnitude distribution seems to have resulted in a lower train population than is sometimes seen, although given the relatively small numbers of meteors available for such detailed examination, these conclusions must be treated with a degree of caution.
October 27-28 Fireball: For details, see Electronic News Bulletin 87, News Circulars 222 and 223, our results article in WGN 30:5 (2002 October), pp. 191-198, but especially the printed and website Special Report supplementary to this Review, The North Sea Fireball of October 27-28, 2001.
Leonids: For details of the SPAMS results, see Electronic News Bulletin 88, News Circulars 223 and 224, our article in WGN 30:3 (2002 June), pp. 59-70, but especially the printed and website Special Report supplementary to this Review, Leonids 2001. The following articles on the 2001 Leonids have appeared since our Special Report was published in 2002 February: “The Leonids’ Best Home Videos”, S. J. Goldman, Sky & Telescope 103:4 (2002 April), p. 26 (very high speed video images showing details of how a meteor occurs); “A Perfect Storm”, D. H. Levy, Sky & Telescope 103:4 (2002 April), pp. 73-75 (personal notes on viewing the storm peak over Australia); “18 November 2001: The Leonids Have Been Back”, ESA Bulletin 109 (2002 February), p. 149 (a brief review); WGN 29:6 (2001 December) has four Leonid results articles between pp. 187-213, including the preliminary IMO visual report, NASA airborne results, Canadian fireball observations and the storm as seen from Japan; “Comparison of the ‘American’ and the ‘Asian’ 2001 Leonid Meteor Storms”, S. Molau, P. S. Gural, O. Okamura, WGN 30:1/2 (2002 February-April), pp. 3-21 (video data of both peaks); WGN 30:4 (2002 August) has three further Leonid papers from pp. 105-126, on radio observations (global and Japanese) and Leonid trains from 1998-2000, while 30:5 (2002 October), pp. 152-167, features three more articles on Very Low Frequency sounds detected from non-fireball Leonids, observations from Arizona and central Australia. In addition to all of this, the final SPAMS analysis revealed a surprisingly strong radio peak in advance of the Leonid storm maxima, on November 14-15, as detected by European and North American operators. Too few visual results are available from then to say what might have been happening, but a Leonid source is quite probable. Intriguingly, Japanese observers reported enhanced rates of bright Leonids on November 15, together with increased counts of longer-duration radio meteor echoes (which are normally assumed to result from brighter meteors). It seems that even well before the Leonid storms, something interesting was taking place for alert observers fortunate enough to have clear skies!
December 1-2 Fireball: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 89 and News Circular 223) Twenty-nine reports of a bright, fragmenting, fireball around 22h40m UT +/- 5 minutes, were received, seen from places across southern England and northern France (more sightings were made elsewhere, particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands). Most observers recorded seeing what seemed a procession of 3-5 white, yellow or orange fireballs following one another closely along the same track in the sky, shedding fainter red-orange sparks or a sparkling trail. The objects passed on a roughly (west-south-?)west to (east-north-?)east track. The whole event had a very long apparent trail across the sky and was moving extremely slowly, with best-estimates for the visible flight times of ~30-40 seconds, typical of man-made material re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Investigations showed indeed it was due to the re-entry of part of the fourth stage of a Russian Proton rocket, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan about 4.5 hours earlier. A further, almost identical, fireball “cluster” seen from sites across the midwestern USA at 04h18m UT on December 1-2 was due to the third stage of this same rocket re-entry. Grateful thanks are due to Mike Feist and John Lambert for rounding-up many of the reports.
Geminids: (See also Electronic News Bulletins 90 and 91, News Circulars 223 and 224) Some splendid weather coincided with the perfectly moonless Geminids, right across their maximum, including in the British Isles for once, where northern parts had the better conditions on December 12-13, southern areas on December 13-14. The three graphs given here illustrate what was achieved when all the results were finally in. Peak ZHRs on December 13-14 (the maximum was due around 04h UT +/- 2.5 hours on December 14) were 108 +/- 9 near 06h UT +/- 1 hour, but held fairly steady at around 90-110 all night across Europe and much of North America. It is not clear how significant the seeming dip in ZHRs from 07h-09h UT was, in our detailed near-peak graph, as relatively few observers were active between 06h-08h UT. The more extensive IMO preliminary results did not show a dip at this time, for instance, but instead found a possible short-lived fall in activity (from ZHRs of ~115-120 to ~108) between about 04h30m-05h30m UT. When combined with the radio data, it seems most likely that rates settled into a loose plateau from roughly 20h to 10h UT on December 13-14. The magnitude details from 1135 Geminids and 317 sporadics are represented in the third graph here, suggesting the Geminids were perhaps slightly less bright than normal, though not by much. Four percent of Geminids left persistent trains, to contrast with the December sporadics’ 8%. All in all, a wonderful shower from the observers’ reactions!
Ursids: (See also Electronic News Bulletin 91 and News Circular 224) After the increased interest generated by the somewhat stronger than normal 2000 return, it was surprising that the shower gave a very poor display in 2001, with several experienced watchers recording none at all on December 21-22 or 22-23 (the maximum was due about midday on December 22). At best, ZHRs reached just 5 +/- 3 in European and North American results, although Japanese preliminary results on the IMO-News e-mailing list for December 26, indicated watchers there spotted ZHRs briefly up to 10-15 from ~11h-15h UT on December 22. At least the Ursids continue to provide interest for watchers – when the weather cooperates!
Welsh Meteorite Fall?: (See also Electronic News Bulletin: Meteor News (2002 January 27), Electronic News Bulletin 93, and News Circular 224) Nothing further has been reported about this event, following the discovery of a 10-20 metre long by ~1 metre wide water-filled trench on a hillside near Mount Snowdon, north Wales, which had apparently appeared sometime between 2001 October 21 and December 10. It seems likely that the absence of news suggests investigations showed it was not meteoritic in origin, but rest assured that if anything further does appear of meteoric interest concerning this, we will endeavour to keep SPA members informed!
Comparison sporadic data for several months during the year has been given with the major shower notes in this Review already, and in the separate Leonid Report, as the sporadics form an essential calibration for all other meteor activities. While they can be monitored along with the main showers, it is important we have as much routine coverage of the sporadic complex during the rest of the year as we can too. This also allows coverage of the minor showers, of which at least one or two are active on nearly every night of the year. The magnitude distribution graph given here is based on details from 1569 sporadics seen in better skies throughout 2001. Their corrected mean magnitude was +3.4, and 8% were trained.
As in several recent years, fireball reports were a notable aspect throughout the year. We should not be too fascinated by the appearance of loose “clusters” of sporadic fireballs or the rare spectacular fireball – or rocket re-entry! – which many people are lucky enough to see however, as fireballs are usually commoner during the major shower maxima. In 2001, the most productive fireball nights and sources were November 17 and 18 (Leonids) and December 13-14 (Geminids). Apart from those fireballs already listed, another 75 reports of meteors of magnitude -3 or brighter were received by the Section during the year, 32 of those on the three shower nights mentioned just above. Advice on what to record on seeing a fireball and other information on them can be found on the Fireball Observing page of this website.
A selection of interesting meteoric texts published since our last Annual Review, not already mentioned.
International Meteor Organization
For further information on the IMO, see: www.imo.net. Anyone seriously interested in meteors or meteor astronomy should consider becoming an IMO member. An application form can be found on the IMO Website, or contact the SPAMS Director. The cost to join in 2002 is 17 pounds Sterling (which includes a two-pound administrative fee payable only in your first year of membership).
Very many thanks to all contributors in 2001. Good luck for all your observing in the remainder of 2002 and far into 2003. I look forward to hearing of your efforts and seeing your reports. Clear skies!
Alastair McBeath, 2002 October 20. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org