Meteor Activity Outlook for December 31, 2011 to January 6, 2012

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January is best known for the Quadrantids, which have the potential of being the best shower of the year. Unfortunately this shower is short lived and occurs during some of the worst weather in the northern hemisphere. Due to the high northern declination (celestial latitude) and short summer nights, little of this activity can be seen south of the equator. Sporadic rates are generally similar in both hemispheres this month. Sporadic rates are falling though for observers in the northern hemisphere and rising as seen from the southern hemisphere.

During this period the moon reaches it first quarter phase on Sunday January 1st. At this time the moon will be located ninety degrees east of the sun and will set near midnight local standard time (LST). As the week progresses the waxing gibbous moon will set later in the morning hours, shrinking the window of opportunity to view under a dark sky. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near three as seen from the northern hemisphere and two as seen from the southern hemisphere. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near fifteen as seen from mid-northern latitudes and ten 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. Evening 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 31st/January 1st. 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 07:32 (113) +21. This position lies in eastern Gemini, two degrees east of the fourth magnitude star Wasat (Delta Geminorum). Due to the large size of this radiant, Antihelion activity may also appear from Monoceros, Canis Minor, or Cancer. This radiant is best placed near 0100 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 Alpha Hydrids (AHY) are active from December 31st through January 9th. Peak activity occurs on January 1st from a radiant located at 08:24 (126) -08. This position lies in extreme western Hydra, fifteen degrees west of the second magnitude star Alphard (Alpha Hydrae). Rates would most likely be near one per hour, no matter your location. The Alpha Hydrids are best seen near 0200 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 45 km/sec. the Alpha Hydrids produce mostly meteors of medium velocity.

Studies of the IMO’s video database by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel has shown another active radiant in Leo this time of year. The January Leonids (JLE) are active from January 1st to 6th with maximum activity occurring on January 2nd. On the 2nd the radiant is located at 09:46 (147) +24. This position lies in western Leo just west of the third magnitude star Algenubi (Epsilon Leonis). This is a very minor display with hourly rates of less than one expected, even at maximum activity. They are best seen near 0300 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 54 km/sec. the January Leonids (JLE) produce mostly meteors of medium-swift velocity.

The December Leonis Minorids (DLM) are active from a radiant located at 11:27 (172) +25. This position lies in a blank area of northeastern Leo. The nearest bright star is third magnitude Zosma (Delta Leonis), which lies six degrees to the southwest. These meteors are best seen near 0500 local standard time (LST) when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked 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 Quadrantids (QUA) or January Bootids are active from January 1st through the 10th. A sharp maximum is predicted to occur near 0730 Universal Time on the 4th. This corresponds to 02:30 EST and 23:30 PST (January 3rd). This is good timing for viewers located in eastern North America as the radiant will rising above the northeastern horizon. It would even be better if the maximum were a it later as the radiant would be located higher in the sky, producing more activity. Rates will depend on the exact time of maximum and whether the moon is still above the horizon. Assuming the 0730 UT timing is correct, the further one is located in North America, the better. Eastern observers may be able to see 60-75 Quadrantids per hour. If your skies are very clear and dark, allowing you to see faint meteors, your rates could top 100 per hour. Observers located in the western portions of North American will have lower rates but will also have the opportunity to see Quadrantid “earthgrazers”. Earthgrazers are meteors that skim the upper portion of the atmosphere therefore lasting much longer than normal and producing long trails in the sky. These meteors can only be seen when the radiant lies close to the horizon. As the radiant rises, the meteor paths will become shorter with shorter durations. Observers in the northern hemisphere outside of North America can expect to see a maximum of 25 Quadrantids per hour between moon set and dawn. Observers south of the equator will see little of this display as the radiant will have little chance to clear the horizon before morning twilight interferes.

At maximum the radiant is located at 15:21 (230) +49. This position lies in a barren  region of extreme northern Bootes, ten degrees northeast of the fourth magnitude star Beta Bootis. At 42 km/sec. the Quadrantids produce meteors of medium velocity. During exceptional activity some Quadrantid fireballs may be witnessed.

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

RA (RA in Deg.) DEC Km/Sec Local Standard Time North-South
Antihelions (ANT) 07:32 (113) +21 30 01:00 2 – 1 II
Alpha Hydrids (AHY) Jan 01 08:24 (126) -08 45 02:00 1 – 1 IV
January Leonids (JLE) Jan 02 09:46 (147) +24 54 03:00 <1 – <1 IV
December Leonis Minorids (DLM) Dec 20 11:27 (172) +25 64 05:00 1 – <1 II
Quadrantids (QUA) Jan 04 15:21 (230) +49 42 09:00 <1 – <1 I



  • rick quintana 11 years ago

    i was outside 7:30 or so 12/31/11 50 mi north of santa fe nm and saw a fireball travel east to west along the horizon.i was looking south e.t.about 3 sec wow

    Reply to rick
  • Caryn George 11 years ago

    I was coming home from work heading south down my road and I saw something large in the sky. I looked up cuz it was big and moving from east to west At first I thought was an airplane but it was way too big and close to the ground. Knowing there is neither an airport or landing field it wasn’t an airplane. It was large and fast with a trail behind it. I saw ambers coming off it and it flicked a couple times and went out. No sound but how cool is that. Hoping to see something. A about it on the news so ppl don’t think I have lost it. Lol

    Reply to Caryn
  • Rob Kin 11 years ago

    At 610 pm 1/6/2012 I saw a comet traveling from east to west in the sky above Eugene OR the comet was visible for 3-5 seconds.

    Reply to Rob
    • Abe 11 years ago

      It was a meteorite, not a comet. Comets do not appear to move as they are millions of miles away. Some comets you can see for weeks, not seconds.
      Comet West was the most beautiful I’ve seen in 1976. Split tail with one side was blueish and was across about 1/6th of the sky. Photos do not do it justice as the time lapse photography makes them brighter than they actually appear. Hale-Bopp in 1997 had a much shorter tail.

      Reply to Abe
  • Larry Krozel 11 years ago

    Got clouded out on Thursday (01/05/12) and Friday (01/06/12), but was able to observe for a two hours Saturday morning (01/07/12), and saw 10 meteors. Not bad for central Connecticut.

    Reply to Larry

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