Meteor Activity Outlook for December 17-23, 2011

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During this period the moon reaches it last quarter phase on Sunday December 18th. The half illuminated moon is still very bright and must be kept out of your field of view for successful meteor observations. During this period, the evening hours, which are unfortunately much less active with meteors, will be completely free of any interfering moonlight.   As the week progresses the moon will wane in phase and will rise approximately forty-five minutes later with each passing night. With this scenario, viewing conditions during the more active morning hours will improve with each passing night. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near five as seen from the northern hemisphere and three as seen from the southern hemisphere. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near twelve two as seen from mid-northern latitudes and eight from mid-southern latitudes. The actual rates will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Morning rates are reduced due to moonlight.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning December 17/18. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period. Most star atlases (available at science stores and planetariums) will provide maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates so that you may find out exactly where these positions are located in the sky. A planisphere or computer planetarium program is also useful in showing the sky at any time of night on any date of the year. Activity from each radiant is best seen when it is positioned highest in the sky, either due north or south along the meridian, depending on your latitude. It must be remembered that meteor activity is rarely seen at the radiant position. Rather they shoot outwards from the radiant so it is best to center your field of view so that the radiant lies at the edge and not the center. Viewing there will allow you to easily trace the path of each meteor back to the radiant (if it is a shower member) or in another direction if it is a sporadic. Meteor activity is not seen from radiants that are located below the horizon. The positions below are listed in a west to east manner in order of right ascension (celestial longitude). The positions listed first are located further west therefore are accessible earlier in the night while those listed further down the list rise later in the night.

The following showers are expected to be active this week:

Now that particles produced by comet 2P/Encke are no longer encountering the Earth, the Taurid showers for 2011 are over and we resume reporting activity from the Antihelion (ANT) radiant. This is not a true radiant but rather activity caused by the Earth’s motion through space. As the Earth revolves around the sun it encounters particles orbiting in a prograde motion that are approaching their perihelion point. They all appear to be radiating from an area near the opposition point of the sun, hence the name Antihelion. These were once recorded as separate showers throughout the year but it is now suggested to bin them into a category separate from true showers and sporadics. This radiant is a very large oval some thirty degrees wide by fifteen degrees high. Activity from this radiant can appear from more than one constellation. The position listed here is for the center of the radiant which is currently located at 06:36 (099) +23. This position lies in western Gemini, three degrees southwest of the third magnitude star Epsilon Geminorum. Antihelion activity may also appear from eastern Taurus, northeastern Orion, or southern Auriga. This radiant is best placed near midnight local standard time (LST), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near two per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and one per hour from south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

The last of the Monocerotids (MON) may be seen this weekend from a radiant located at 07:03 (106) +07. This position lies on the Monoceros/Canis Minor border, ten degrees west of the brilliant zero magnitude star Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris). Rates would be less than one per hour no matter your location. The Monocerotids are best seen near 0100 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 41 km/sec. the Monocerotids produce mostly meteors of medium velocity.

The last of the Sigma Hydrids (HYD) may be seen this weekend from a radiant located at 08:54 (134) +00. This position lies in western Hydra, five degrees south of the third magnitude star Zeta Hydrae. Rates would be less than one per hour no matter your location. The Sigma Hydrids are best seen near 0300 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 61 km/sec. the Sigma Hydrids produce mostly swift meteors.

The December Leonis Minorids (DLM) are active from a radiant located at 10:39 (160) +31. This position lies in eastern Leo Minor, ten degrees northeast of the third magnitude star Zeta Leonis. These meteors are best seen near 0500 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaks on December 20th so current rates would be near one per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and less than one per hour as seen from south of the equator. At 64 km/sec. the December Leonis Minorids produce mostly swift meteors.

The Coma Berenicids (COM) are active from a radiant located at 11:51 (178) +18. This position actually lies in eastern Leo, two degrees north of the second magnitude star Denebola (Beta Leonis). These meteors are best seen near 0600 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked on December 16th so current rates would be near one per hour no matter your location. This week will be your only opportunity to see these meteors as the shower will be over by the 23rd. At 65 km/sec. the Coma Berenicids produce mostly swift meteors.

Activity from the  Ursids (URS) may begin to appear this weekend from a radiant located at 13:58 (210) +76. This position lies in eastern Ursa Minor, fifteen degrees east of the second magnitude star Kochab (Beta Ursa Minoris). It must be remembered that the length of degrees are smaller in high declinations so the radiant is actually closer to this star than these figures inply. These meteors are best seen during the last dark hour before dawn, when the radiant lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. This shower is not well seen from the southern hemisphere. Maximum activity is not expected until Friday December 23th, so current hourly rates would probably be less than one. On the morning of maximum, hourly rates of between 5-10 Ursids may be seen. At 33 km/sec. the Ursids produce mostly medium-slow meteors.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately eight sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near three per hour. As seen from the mid-southern hemisphere (45S), morning rates would be near five per hour as seen from rural observing sites and two per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Morning rates are reduced due to moonlight.

The table below presents a condensed version of the expected activity this week. Rates and positions are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning.

SHOWER DATE OF MAXIMUM ACTIVITY CELESTIAL POSITION ENTRY VELOCITY CULMINATION HOURLY RATE CLASS
RA (RA in Deg.) DEC Km/Sec Local Standard Time North-South
Antihelions (ANT) 06:36 (099) +23 30 00:00 2 – 1 II
Monocerotids (MON) Dec 08 07:03 (106) +07 41 01:00 <1 – <1 II
Sigma Hydrids (HYD) Dec 06 08:54 (134) +00 61 03:00 <1 – <1 II
December Leonis Minorids (DLM) Dec 20 10:39 (160) +31 64 05:00 1 – 1 II
Coma Berenicids (COM) Dec 16 11:51 (178) +18 65 06:00 1 – 1 II
Ursids (URS) Dec 23 13:58 (210) +76 33 08:00 <1 – <1 I

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One comment

  • Valia 5 years ago

    Hello, While I was driving very early in the morning on December 24th my car got hidden by a rock at the front wind screen. It was dark so I only had a very quick view of this rock. It was around 30cm big, opal white color and with a rough finish. Two other cars got hidden at the same time as well. None of us noticed anyone throwing them from the road sides. Is there a chance that these rocks were any sort of a meteorite? I live in Cyprus (Europe). Hope that you can answer :)

    Reply to Valia

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