The winter months bring long hours of darkness and two of the year’s highlights, the Geminids and Quadrantids.
The Geminids peak on 13-14 December and this year they coincide with the nearly-new Moon, so conditions are perfect. If skies are clear you might see 50-70 meteors per hour. The radiant will be high in the southeast at midnight.
The Quadrantids unfortunately coincide with the Full Moon on 29 December, and so in the best of conditions you are unlikely to see more than 20 per hour. The radiant is low in the north at sunset, rising to nearly the zenith by dawn.
There are also several minor showers at this time of year. The Northern Taurids peak on 11 November. A rate of 2-3 per hour is likely in the pre-dawn hours after moonset. A week later on 17 November the Leonids will also be best viewed before dawn, with possible rates of 7-8 per hour. Moving into December the final shower of the year, the Ursids peaks on 22 December and will again be best seen after midnight once the waning Moon sets. A visual rate of 2-3 is likely.
The IMO list several other minor showers at this time of year, the Monocerotids, Cassiopeids, Hydrids, Coma Berenicids and December Leonis Minorids. These all have rates of less than five in dark skies but will add to the constant background of sporadics.
Earlier today local news outlets in northeastern Mexico reported a very bright fireball had been seen by many observers in the state of Nuevo Leon. The meteor was seen at 10.14pm local time, and was caught on numerous security cameras, webcams and even doorbell cameras! Furthermore there are reports that fragments of the meteor fell to ground in the neighbouring state of Tamaulipas.
There’s more on this story here on the EarthSky News website.
The IMO reports that there is the possibility of an outburst of the Draconids this year on the evening of 6th October.
In early October the Earth passes through the debris trail of comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Usually this produces little activity, but calculations indicate that this year we’ll pass close to two strands of the debris trail possibly giving rise to an outburst.
The peaks of the outbursts are estimated to be 0125UT and 0157UT on the 7th of October but activity is expected to last for a few hours so observers should go out as soon as its dark. The radiant is near the head of Draco and will be well placed with the waning gibbous Moon on the opposite side of the sky and not rising till 10pm.
The Draconids are slow moving and usually faint, so radio detectors may pick up more than visual ones. In 2018 the rate briefly reached 150 and in 2011 it reached 300.
[thanks to Paul Sutherland for bringing this to my attention]
On 22nd September at 03h54m UT, multiple stations across Europe detected an earth-grazing meteor. Earth-grazers are meteors that hit the atmosphere at a shallow angle, and so instead of burning up, they pass through and return to space a little lighter and in a different orbit.
This particular meteor entered the atmosphere over Germany, travelled over the North Sea and left the atmosphere again over central UK. Marco Langbroek of the Dutch Meteor Society estimated that it entered at about 100km, and at its lowest was 90km high before it passed out of the atmosphere again at around 100km. It had a velocity of around 30-35 km/s.
Interestingly, although its altitude varied, its path was probably a straight line! This is because of course the Earth is a sphere. Marco has written an excellent explanation here.
Further analysis has since been carried out by members of the Global Meteor Network and Denis Vida from GMN kindly provided the below analysis, based on multiple stations across Europe.
The meteor was first detected at a height of 101.2 km and travelling at 33.94 km/s. At its lowest point it was at 90.2 km, and was last seen at an altitude of 107.4 km over the central UK (coincidentally almost directly above my house!). Its velocity hardly changed during this time, averaging 33.68 km/s.
The orbit had a semi-major axis of 2.44 AU, an eccentricity of 0.87 and an inclination of 3.14 degrees which puts it pretty much in the plane of the ecliptic and (to me at least) suggests an asteroidal origin. Perihelion was inside the orbit of Mercury while at its furthest from the Sun, the meteor would have been somewhere beyond the Asteroid belt. The image below shows the orbit as seen from above the Sun’s north pole. The blue and red dots are Earth and Mars respectively.
Reports have come in of a meteorite fall in Brazil on the morning of 19th August 2020. Fragments of the meteorite broke a roof and were found on a bed!
As it happened during daylight, it was caught by security cameras and a sensor from GOES sattelite, as shown in this video clip https://youtu.be/ESAwIW2PypY
There are also audio reports from visual observers and a video from where is was found showing the finder with the meteorite in his hands explaining what happened. This clip is in Portuguese. https://youtu.be/Bs3_nnr-IRU
September’s showers are once again impacted by the Moon. The Aurigids peak on 31st August just before the Full Moon, and so will be best viewed before dawn when the radiant will be high in the East. A week later, on 10th September, the peak of the eta-Perseids which will be best viewed before moonrise at 23:00 when the radiant will again be high in the East. Both showers have rates of five or six per hour.
In late September you may see a few Daytime Sextantids at dawn or dusk and radio observers should pick them up during the day. The radiant of this shower will be quite close to Venus in the pre-dawn sky.
In October, the Draconids peak on the 8th with an hourly rate of about ten and are best observed in the evening before moonrise when the radiant will be high in the West. Conversely, the Orionids peak on 22nd with an hourly rate of five and are best observed after midnight once the radiant has risen in the East.
There are a few other weak showers: the Eta Geminids peak on 18th Oct, the Southern Taurids on 10th Oct, the Leonis Minorids on 24th Oct and the Northern Taurids, active from 20th Oct through into November. These showers have rates of under five.
Remember if you do spot something interesting to send details to email@example.com
Although the summer months are short, we do have the benefit of warmer nights and – hopefully- one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Perseids (PER). This year the Perseids will peak on the 12th and 13th of August, with the radiant in the North East at dusk. The waning crescent Moon won’t rise till midnight so early evening will be the best time to watch. Quoted rates are 150 but realistically 60-75 is more likely unless you’re in a dark sky site.
A week or so earlier the Delta Aquariids (SDA) and Alpha Capricornids (CAP) will peak round the 29th or 30th of July. Unfortunately the Moon will be waxing gibbous and won’t set till around 1am, so the best time to watch will be before dawn. Expect a rate of two or three an hour when the Moon is up, higher after moonset. The radiants are low in the South. The view below shows both radiants at around 01.30 on the night of the peak. As an added bonus, Jupiter and Saturn should both be visible, blazing brightly.
Finally, there is the possiblilty of an outburst of the July Gamma-Draconids (GDR) on the 28th of July. In 2016, there was an intense outburst of ~100/hour for a few minutes after midnight UT. The same orbital alignment arises in 2020 at around 00:30UT on the same date so its well worth a look. Gamma Draconis will be close to the zenith at the time and the Moon will just have set.
May and June are quiet for visual meteor hunters as the majority of showers are ‘daytime’ events and their radiants are too close to the Sun for us to observer visually. However if you have a radio detector you should pick them up. There’s more information about how to make a radio detector here and more on the daytime showers here.
The Eta Aquariids (ETA) will be largely washed out by the Full Moon on the 7th of May as will the Eta Lyrids (ELY) on the 9th. Given the moonlight the hourly rates for these showers are likely to be 2-3 combined.
The June Bootids (JBO) are listed in most catalogues as peaking on the 27th of June but have shown no significant activity since 2004. Nothing much is expected in 2020 either, but if you do see any activity please let me know as it would be scientifically interesting as the parent body comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke has changed orbit since 2004.
There’s one other possible interesting event: on the 14th of May, debris from Apollo asteroid 461852 may pass close enough to the Earth to give rise to slow-moving meteors. If you are out and about that night and see anything please do report it.
March a very quiet month for night time meteor hunters, April a bit less so.
In March, the γ-Normids (GNO) and π-Puppids (PPU) are a southern hemisphere event. Most of April’s showers are daytime, such as the April Piscids (APS), and have radiants close to the Sun. The Anthelion source also peaks during March and April but this isn’t really a shower. It refers to an oval area about thirty degrees in RA and fifteen in declination, centred a bit to the east of the point opposite the sun on the ecliptic from which several weak unnamed showers originate. Its not possible to identify a specific radiant for these meteors, and you’re best to just ID them as source=ANT! There may be a weak peak around 17th March. If you run a radio detector you may pick up activity from these showers – if so please do send details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The main event of April is the Lyrids (LYR) which peak on 22nd April at 07.00. The ZHR can be up to 90 but is predicted to be around 18 in 2020. The radiant will be high in the south-east and the Moon will be new, so we can hope for clear skies. A ZHR of 18 implies a visual rate of around six an hour given the position of the radiant and lack of moonlight.
The Lyrids are followed by the η-Aquariids (ETA), which run from 19th April to mid May and peak in early May with a ZHR of 50. However the radiant rises very close to dawn, so don’t expect too much. On the plus side, the Moon won’t have risen!
If you spot an interesting event please email email@example.com or via @markmac99 on Twitter.