Meteor Activity Outlook for March 31-April 6, 2012

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Meteor activity picks up a bit during April as two major showers are active during the month. The first of these, the Lyrids, are active from the 16th through the 25th, with a pronounced maximum on the 22nd. The Eta Aquariids start appearing near the 28th and reach maximum activity during the first week in May. Sporadic rates are low but steady as seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45 N). Sporadic rates seen from the mid-southern hemisphere (45 S) rise this month toward a maximum in July.

During this period the moon reaches its full phase on Friday April 6th. At that time the moon will be located opposite the sun and will be in the sky all night long. This weekend the waxing gibbous moon will set during the early morning hours, allowing a few hours of dark skies for observing before the start of morning twilight. This window of opportunity shrinks with each passing night until late in the week when the moon is near full and in the sky all night long. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near two for observers in the northern hemisphere and three for those south of the equator. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near seven as seen from mid-northern latitudes and twelve 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. Even rates are reduced during this period 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 March 31/April 1. 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:

The large Antihelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 13:08 (204) -09. This position lies in central Virgo, four degrees northwest of the first magnitude star Spica (Alpha Virginis). Due to the large size of this radiant, Antihelion activity may also appear from the nearby constellations of Corvus, extreme eastern Hydra, southwestern Bootes, and northern Centaurus as well as Virgo. This radiant is best placed near 0200 local daylight time (LDT), when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near two per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

Studies of the IMO video database by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel has revealed a weak radiant active in the constellation of Cygnus this time of year. The Zeta Cygnids (ZCY) are active from March 27 through April 13 with maximum activity occurring on April 6. The current radiant position lies at 19:52 (298) +39. This position lies in central Cygnus, six degrees west of the second magnitude star Sadr (Gamma Cygni). The radiant is best placed during the last dark hour before dawn, when it lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. Due to the northern declination of the radiant, this activity is not well seen from the southern hemisphere. No matter your location, rates at this time are expected to be less than one per hour. At 44km/sec. the Zeta Cygnids would produce meteors of average velocity.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately five sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near one per hour. As seen from the mid-southern hemisphere (45S), morning rates would be near ten 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. Evening rates are reduced during this period 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 Daylight Time North-South
Antihelions (ANT) 13:08 (204) -09 30 02:00 2 – 2 II
Zeta Cygnids (ZCY) Apr 05 19:52 (298) +39 44 09:00 <1 – <1 IV

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6 comments

  • SAGE GIBSON 5 years ago

    11:55 AM SAN ANTONIO TEXAS. I SAW A FIREBALL PLUMMET STRAIGHT DOWN TOWARDS THE EAST OF THE MEDICAL CENTER. I WAS AT AN INTERSECTION AT 1604 AND KYLE SEAL PKY FACING DOWNTOWN WHEN IT APPEARED RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. IT IS AMAZING HOW YOUR BODY REACTS TO SUCH A EXPERIENCE. ALL THE HAIR ON MY BODY STOOD UP, AND MY SKIN WAS GOOSEBUMPLY.

    Reply to SAGE
  • Ron Gardner 5 years ago

    This is what my 7 year old daughter described to me of what she saw.
    A long tail of fire with what looked like an x on the front, it was really long and the x was black, think it was a shooting star, so I made a wish on it.
    This happened on 3/2/12 around 7:45 pm in southeastern Michigan.

    Reply to Ron
  • Quint 5 years ago

    Looked like red white and blue twinkling star with tail, Rhode Island

    Reply to Quint
  • mark jackaman 5 years ago

    Was outside my house in Victoria British Columbia Canada and saw what looked like a firework falling put the sky! It had a super long tail which looked like sparks …

    Reply to mark
  • Jan 5 years ago

    Saw an amazing shooting star at about 8:30 p.m. on Good Friday (April 6, 2012) from my front porch in Lafayette, Louisiana. Long tail in an arc across the southern sky. Had I not be on the phone, I watched it fall long enough to have taken a photo. It was probably the longest falling star I’ve ever seen. Almost like it was in slow motion. A think a beauty to be sure.

    Reply to Jan
  • Stephanie Cuomo 5 years ago

    About 10:20 pm… saw a fireball white, red-orange and a gassy green tail. It went right across the sky, down behind the trees. I was traveling 95 south towards New York.

    Reply to Stephanie

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