The Aurigids peak on 1st September this year but with a last quarter Moon near the radiant, and the radiant low above the horizon, conditions are not ideal. On the other hand the September eta-Perseids peak around the 9th September, close to the new Moon on 7th, and so conditions should be good from around 22:00 local time. Both showers have rates of around 5 per hour though the Aurigids have been known to outburst up to 50.
In October, the Draconids peak on the 8th and Camelopardids on the 5th, shortly after the new Moon. The Southern Taurids are active from late September to late October, with a peak around the 10th October. The Orionids on the 21st/22nd will be washed out by moonlight. These showers all have rates of between 5 and 10 per hour.
The southern Delta-Aquariids (SDA) peak on 30th July with an hourly rate of around 25. They’re a good target for radio detections as most of the shower will be below the horizon for UK observers. The alpha-Capricornids (CAP) peak at the same time, and can be distinguished by a lower velocity.
The main event as always is the Perseids (PER) which this year peak around 21:00UT on the 12th. Conditions are good, with the young new Moon only four days old. Rates can be as high as 100 per hour, so lets hope for clear skies and no return of 2020 and 2019’s thunderstorms and gales! The best time to observe is after 10pm local time.
On the 1st of April a spectacular fireball was seen over the Spanish city of Toledo. Reports suggest that it was seen as far away as 500km! There’s a great video (link below). Analysis suggests it burned up at 46km altitude so its unlikely any fragments made it to the ground – meteors really need to surive to 25-30km to have much chance of reaching the ground – but still, its pretty impressive!
The Lyrids (LYR) peak on the afternoon of 22nd April and the ZHR can be up to 90 but 18-20 is more normal. The best time to watch is just before dawn, but a waxing crescent Moon will probably reduce the visible rate to five or six an hour. If you decide to watch the show, please do send in a report.
The eta Aquariids (ETA) peak about 03:00UT on the 6th of May, and may have an hourly rate as high as 50 but the radiant rises just before dawn making it harder to observe.
The June Bootids (JBO) have not been active for several years and in any events coincide with the nearly full Moon this year, with their maximum between 23rd and 27th June.
There are however many day-time showers in May and June, so if you’re operating a radio detector, look out for the eta-Arietids (DEA) which peak at 09:00UT on 9th May, the May Arietids (DMA) at 10:00UT on 16th May, the Daytime Arietids (ARI) at 10:00UT on 7th June and the zeta Perseids (ZPE) at 12:00UT on the 9th of June. The Arietids can have an hourly rate of up to 30.
Fragments of the spectacular fireball seen on the 28th of February 2021 have been recovered from near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire – and its a rare Carbonaceous Chondrite !
Of the 65,000 meteorites known to exist, only 1206 have been seen falling, and only 51 of these are Carbonaceous Chondrites. So this is a really rare event, and furthermore the sample was retrieved so quickly after its fall and in such a good condition that it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions. Around 300 grammes were recovered less than a day after the fireball was seen. This is the first Carbonaceous Chondrite recovered in the UK ever, and the first meteorite recovery in the country since 1991.
The recovery of this meteorite is a triumph for the UK Citizen Science and the meteor detection networks. Data from six networks, UKMON, NEMETODE, UKFN, FRIPON, GMN and Allsky7, as well as data from the public, contributed to analysis performed by teams in Canada, Australia and France and coordinated by the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFall) to calculate the projected fall area.
Commenting on this collaboration, Jim Rowe of UKFall said “Three years ago a meteorite fell in Dorset. Back then we had good data but no action plan. So, we set up UKFAll, and this is the outcome!”, and Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow and co-founder of UKFall commented “It’s thanks to this international collaboration, including researchers as far away as Australia, that we were able to calculate where this meteorite landed so quickly and with such accuracy, as well as where it originated from in the asteroid belt, a rarity that can be said of only about 40 of the 65,000 meteorites on Earth. Goodwill and teamwork have produced a stellar result.”
Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, it was not possible to immediately visit the area. So an appeal was made to the public to be on the look out for fragments. Stories were run in all the major UK papers and television networks explaining what to look for and how to handle a potential find without contaminating or damaging it.
This paid off when a family in Gloucestershire reported a chunk of meteorite embedded their drive, with fragments thrown over the neighbour’s hedge. Furthermore, later in the week a team of specialists including scientists from the Univerities of Glasgow, Manchester and Plymouth, from the Open University and from Imperial College London were able to join the search and have found further fragments.
Dr Richard Greenwood, Research Fellow in Planetary Sciences at the Open University was the first scientist to identify and advise on the meteorite. He said ‘I was in shock when I saw it and immediately knew it was a rare meteorite and a totally unique event. It’s emotional being the first one to confirm to the people standing in front of you that the thud they heard on their driveway overnight is in fact the real thing.”
All the fragments have been moved to the Natural History Museum, where Professor Sara Russell, Merit Researcher in Cosmic Mineralogy, who advised on handling and care for the meteorite, said, “The Japanese space mission Hayabusa2 returned around 4.5 g of fragments from asteroid Ryugu to Earth in December last year, and at the Museum we are helping to characterise this material. The Winchcombe meteorite fall is very timely as the rock is similar.”
The significance of this recovery can’t be underestimated.
Chondrites are the most primitive and most pristine form of meteor, and can provide unique information about the conditions in which our solar system was born, where our water came from, how the building blocks of life were formed and where planets come from.
Chondrites are named because they contain chondrules, which are small spherical pieces of melted material that formed when our solar system was born and which have been trapped ever since like little time capsules. Chondrites may also contain amino acids and other organic compounds and even material from the pre-solar nebula in the form of small white inclusions called CAIs (calcium-aluminium inclusions). So they’re a treasure trove of scientific information.
As Dr Ashley King, UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Museum put it, “The opportunity to be one of the first people to see and study a meteorite that was recovered almost immediately after falling is a dream come true!’
On a personal note, i am thrilled to have been involved in this in a minor way, and i am looking forward to not just the science that comes out of this fall, but to the next fall as well!
More to be found ?
Its possible that more fragments may yet be discovered. If you are local to the area, please keep an eye out for fragments which may appear as black stones, or as piles of tiny rock or even dust. The picture here, from a similar event, shows what you might expect to see on a hard surface. On soft ground the meteorite might be more intact!
If you find something that could be meteorite, take a photo of it and record its location before collecting the sample.
Use a gloved hand to pick the fragment up so that you don’t transfer skin or sweat to it, and then package it in aluminium foil to keep it safe. Then contact the Natural History Museum or one of the organizations mentioned below. Please also respect local lockdown COVID-19 regulations.
About the UK Fireball Alliance:
The UK Fireball Alliance aims to recover freshly fallen meteorites in the UK. Led by volunteers and by staff of the Natural History Museum, UKFAll is a collaboration between the UK’s six meteor and fireball camera networks. The networks are:
The UK Fireball Network, run by a team from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow, supported by funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Australian Research Council, is part of Australia’s Curtin University-led Global Fireball Observatory operated by the Space Science and Technology Centre in collaboration with NASA and 18 international partners;
SCAMP, the UK part of the France-based FRIPON fireball network, which was funded by ANR in 2014 and now comprises 175 cameras and 25 radio receivers;
There is only one shower of note in the first three months of the year. The Quadrantids have a short sharp peak centred on 04 Jan, and unfortunately this year it coincides with a nearly full Moon so the display will be quite washed out. Expect no more than 20 meteors per hour.
After the quadrantids it is quiet till April’s Lyrids. There are a few minor showers: the γ-Ursae Minorids on 20 Jan (rate <3) is visible from the northern hemisphere, but the α-Centaurids (08 Feb, rate <6) and γ-Normids (14 Mar, rate <6) are southern hemisphere events only unless you’re using a radio detector.
Finally the Anthelion Source is active during this period. This is the name given to a large number of weak, badly defined sources covering a huge patch on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun. You will pick up meteors from this any time between December and September though mostly they will be categorised as Sporadics. Again you’re more likely to pick these up on a radio detector.
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.