April and May
April and May are quiet for visible meteor showers, with many showers’ radiants being too close to the Sun for night time observation. There are a few exceptions however.
The Lyrids peaked on the night of 22rd Apr and some activity was reported. Sandy Allan was clouded out on the 20th and moonlight spoiled the 22nd but managed a couple of hours on the 21st. Sandy reports considerably more satellites than meteors, with the 1st quarter moon interfering and only one meteor spotted. The UK Meteor Network managed to identify 110 over four days, with a sharp peak on the night of 22nd and rapid fall off thereafter. Phil Hayward, using a radio detector, saw a similar pattern, again interfered with by satellite passes. By contrast my own radio detector showed a sharp peak a day later on the evening of the 23rd, though yet again satellite interference confused the data and this peak may be spurious. These artificial objects are really becoming a problem for radio and other astronomy.
Moving into May, Phil Hayward monitored the Eta Aquariids and the Arietid showers which are all essentially daytime showers due to the proximity of the radiants to the Sun, and hence are good targets for radio measurements. The UK Meteor Network also reported on the Eta Aquariids. Analysis shows peak activity was broadly in line with expectations, just before dawn on the 6th of May but with detections any time from 29th April through to 27th May.
There are now no significant showers till mid to late July.
February and March
Normally, February and March are quiet for meteors – but not this year!
The Winchcombe Meteorite
The remarkable Winchcombe meteorite event is of course now well reported, but its worth recapping anyway. At 21:54 on February 28th, a spectacular fireball was picked up on many cameras across the UK and northern Europe run by a number of amateur meteor detection teams including members of the SPA. The videos showed the meteor fragmenting as it streaked through the atmosphere.
An international team of both citizen and professional scientists was rapidly assembled to analyse the reports. Working through the night, the team showed that the meteor had been monitored right down to an altitude of 25km, suggesting that it was likely that fragments had reached the ground. Further analysis narrowed the potential fall zone down to Gloucestershire and West Oxfordshire.
Covid restrictions meant that scientists could not immediately visit the area, but a call went out to the public via TV, Radio, papers and social media, to be on the lookout. The following day, a family in Winchcombe found a chunk in their driveway, and further fragments were subsequently recovered. The meteorite was collected so quickly that its in almost pristine condition, on a par with the samples returned from Asteroid Ryugu, and will provide a treasure trove of scientific data.
The contribution of amateurs to this amazing event can’t be overstated. The networks of cameras run by ordinary people (including this author) were crucial in tracking the meteor, citizen scientists carried out the initial analysis and enlisted experts from as far afield as Canada and Australia to validate the finding, and it was amateurs who publicised the event via social media and the press. Without this significant amateur contribution, the professional science could not have started. If you’re interested in getting involved please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been a bit of a period for fireballs in fact. Besides the Winchcombe event, Ryan Gay reported a bright fireball at 21:17UT on February 18th, visible to the North West from Kingston upon Hull. Graham Winstanley picked up the Winchcombe event on his all-sky camera. Robin Scagell picked up a fireball on March 3rd at 20:03 and I picked up several bright events on my own cameras, notably a magnitude -3.2 near-fireball on Feb 3rd. Several other reports were made on social media though sadly not all were logged with the IMO so I can’t report the exact times and dates.
If you do see a bright meteor, I strongly encourage you to report it either via our website or the IMO’s site. The reports provide valuable information that can help validate and improve analysis such as that which led to the Winchcombe Meteorite being found.
A number of people have asked on social media whether it is unusual to have so many fireballs. The answer of course is no. Every year, there are hundreds of fireballs reported around the world – in the UK alone we could expect to see up to 50 so although they’re more common in August and December when the big showers are active, statistically we might expect to see two or three per month. So, don’t worry, its not a harbinger of doom, just a statistical coincidence!
Sadly the Quadrantids were clouded out for most observers, so only radio reports were sent in.
Nevertheless, there were some really interesting data. My own radio showed a weak peak at 04:00UT on 3rd January followed by strong peak at 12:00UT. Pete Hill sent in the excellent graph seen here, showing a similar weak peak at 03:00UT and a stronger peak at 12:00UT. Finally, Phil Hayward’s radio again showed strong peak at 12:00UT on 3rd. Its great to have these data to compare as it confirms the pattern is real and isn’t due to instrument issues.
Three fireballs were reported by members during this period.
Firstly, as mentioned earlier, Tom Banks reported a bright Geminid at 2020-12-13 20:38UT, and Paul Sutherland reported a bright sporadic 2021-01-22 06:58UT while out for an early morning walk.
Finally, James Foster reported a bright fireball at 06:43UT on the 5th of January. This event was also picked up by Michael O’Connell in Ireland, who was using a spectral grating on his camera at the time as shown in the picture. This event was also reported to the International Meteor Organization by several members of the public. Analysis indicates it travelled over Cornwall and the Irish Sea, heading towards the Isle of Man.