Meteors and Supermoon compete for attention

 

Meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Circle Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022 on the calendar or make a note on the smart phone for a double sky phenomenon. But one sky event may make it hard to see the other.

The Perseids, arguably the best meteor shower of the year, already started July 17 but continues through Aug. 24. It peaks Aug. 12-13 with from 50 to 100 meteors zooming across the sky per hour.

The meteors are debris from parent comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle whose radiant is the Perseus constellation in the northeastern sky. The greatest number of meteors will be visible after the radiant rises, according to Earth SkyThe radiant rises around 11 p.m. CT, nearly due northeast in Perseus so the Perseids are best viewed from midnight to sunrise. 

Perseus was the Greek mythological hero who stopped (beheaded) Medusa the Gorgon (Maybe you’ve seen the TV ad where Medusa enters a bar and turns guys to stone).

The problem: August’s full moon, glowing in the sky Aug. 11-13 is the fourth and last supermoon of 2022. As a supermoon whose orbit brings it closer to earth than most moons come the rest of the year, it looks larger and brighter than usual. That large illumination makes it harder to spot meteors.

July's full moon was a supermoon because its orbit brought it so close to Earth. (J Jacobs photo)
July’s full moon was a supermoon because its orbit brought it so close to Earth. (J Jacobs photo)

“Sadly, this year’s Perseids peak will see the worst possible circumstances for spotters,” said NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, who leads the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“Most of us in North America would normally see 50 or 60 meteors per hour,” he said, “but this year, during the normal peak, the full Moon will reduce that to 10-20 per hour at best,” said Cooke.

Aptly named, at least for 2022’s August Supermoon, this full moon is called the Sturgeon Moon after the giant fish found in the Great Lakes that is often caught the last month of summer.  A good source for full moon names is The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The sturgeon is considered a “living fossil” for its beginnings about 136 million years ago.

(For information on when to watch for the Perseids in your area visit Time and Date.)

 

Meteors overhead

Meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Word of meteor sightings in the middle of July have been coming into news bureaus but little has been said about the timing. Astronomers know there is usually meteor activity going on over head.

However, the meteor showers that catch attention are typically the big ones with major peak times such as the Perseids that peak Aug. 11-12 in 2022.

Peak dates don’t mean those meteor showers haven’t already started.

Currently the Delta Aquarids which are a montage of meteors seeming to radiate below the “square” of Pegasus, started about July 18 and go through early August. They can produce up to 20 meteors per hour.

Their best sighting is from mid-evening to dawn in the Southern Hemisphere and the southern part of the United States during the new moon phase July 28. That is when moonlight won’t be a factor because the moon is between Earth and the Sun.

In addition, the Perseids have also started. Brighter than the Delta Aquarids, they can be seen now because the comet of origin, 109P/Swift-Tuttle, passes through Earth’s orbit July 14 to Aug. 24. Their peak will be during August’s full moon phase Aug. 12 but is expected to deliver about 100 meteors per hour.

So, just because a meteor shower is said to peak at a certain time during the month, does not mean its meteors aren’t zooming overhead before and after those dates.

EarthSky has a good analysis of these two July-August meteor showers.

 

Tau Herculids meteor shower

 

Meteor shower Photo courtesy of NASA)
Meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Back in the beginning of May we mentioned two meteor showers for the month: the Eta Aquarida early in May and the Tau Herculids at the end of May.

What was unknown and only a guess was how large the Tau Herculids shower would be. It wasn’t on everyone’s radar as one to watch or even  existing.

However, EarthSky suggested it could be an exciting display because it was the debris from parent comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, (SW3) which had been breaking up and would likely be seen in the Earth’s Western Hemisphere at night

Though the debris was, as predicted, not bright, and didn’t fill the sky with hundreds of meteors at a time, the Tau Herculids did put on a reasonable display with as many as 25 to 35 meteors seen around midnight CT May 30 p.m. to May 31 a.m.

Noticed by astronomers in 1930, it is now on more sky watch lists. A good site to see reports of the meteor shower is at EarthSky.

May meteor watch now and end of month

 

May is continuing to be a month to watch the night skies.

The Eta Aquarid Meteor shower from 1P/Halley that started in April is peaking May 4-6. Between 30 to 50 meteors per hour are expected in the pre-dawn hours. Although they are more visible in the southern hemisphere because their radiant is the southern constellation AquariusTime and Date suggests watching for them about 3 a.m. CDT.

Late in the month, May 30-31, watch for a somewhat more recently-known meteor shower, the Tau Herculids. EarthSky suggests it may be an exciting display this year.

Coming from the parent comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3, (SW3), it was noticed by astronomers  in 1930. Although not bright, it keeps breaking up and has a large amount of debris.

If the weather doesn’t co-operate or you miss either meteor shower and want to know when others are still coming in 2022 visit the Old Farmer’s Almanac Meteor Calendar. It has good-to-know dates and information.

(Meteor photo courtesy of NASA)

 

 

Eyes up for the Lyrids

NASA photo of a meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)
NASA photo of a meteor shower (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Now that April’s full moon is starting to wane moonlight will hopefully not interfere with April’s meteor shower: the Lyrids.

Known for how bright they are and fast they fly across the sky leaving glowing trails of dust, they already began on April 16, but they peak between April 21-23 with between 15 to 20 meteors per hour.

The Lyrids, called that because they seem to come from the constellation Lyra, were first recorded by the Chinese in 687 BC, making them the oldest known meteor shower.

What observers see is debris from the C/1861 G1 Thatcher comet in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres as the comet’s orbit crosses those skies in mid-late April.

Best time to watch is predawn when the moon has set and the sky is still dark. If watching for them, give your eyes a chance to adjust to the night sky and find a spot away from street and highway lights and businesses.

For more information visit NASA at SolarSystem.nasa.gov and EarthSky at Meteor Shower Guide.

 

Meteor Shower

 

NASA photo of a meteor shower
NASA photo of a meteor shower

Of course people will be watching fireworks in person or on TV the night when Dec. 31, 2021 turn into early morning Jan 1, 2022.

But the sky will be doing its own show during this period with the Quadrantids. They will peak when Jan 3 turns to Jan. 4, 2022.

The good news is that the New Moon will rise and set with the Sun so it won’t be a factor.

The sort of bad news is that the meteor shower peak of about 110 to 120 meteors an hour is a short couple of hours. The expected peak time is 21 UTC (Universal Time Clock.

Named for a defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis the meteor shower’s other name is the Bootids for constellation Bootes. The parent is Asteroid 2003 EH which takes about 5.5 years to orbit the Sun.

For more information visit Time and Date and EarthSky.

 

The Perseid meteor shower is back

 

The Perseids produce more than 40 meteors per hour. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Put August 11 on your calendar to watch the night sky. The best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be entertaining night sky watchers with at least  40 fireballs an hour when they peak next week. However, they have been known to rack up as many as 100 meteors per hour.

As debris from comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs  annually when earth’s orbit takes it near the comet’s path from the end of July to mid-August. The meteors are already zooming across the sky but in 2021 the peak is Aug. 11-13.

If you like company or have trouble seeing them, tune into NASA which has invited everyone to watch with them. Watch time is Aug. 11-12 from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. CDT on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

If weather is a problem,  there is likely to be a second chance Aug. 12-13. The livestream is hosted by the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

A crescent moon will be setting early so moonlight shouldn’t be a factor. Watch between midnight and  dawn away from city lights. Some folks  stretch out on blankets but if the ground is dewy damp pull out a lawn chair.

Don’t worry if you don’t see any meteors right away. It takes a few minutes to adapt to the night sky. The meteor shower radiant appears to be above Perseus.

Good sky-watching references include Time and Date and Earth and Sky.

.

 

 

 

Meteorites skim planet Earth this week

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

The Eta Aquarids, the first half of Halley’s Comet’s two rounds of meteor showers, peak May 4-6, 2021. The two meteor showers are debris from Comet Halley as Earth  passes through the comet’s path around the Sun.

Seen in both hemispheres, the Southern Hemisphere arguably offers a better view now when its radiant, the Aquarius constellation, is overhead and Northern is better for its second round, the Orionids, in October. But both meteor showers are popular with sky watchers.

After acclimating your sight to the night, look in the southern sky for Eta Aquarii, the constellation’s brightest star. Depending on the weather, you may be treated to more than 30 meteorites per hour.

The moon, now in its waning crescent phase should not be a factor, particularly if watching for the meteorites early on May 6 before dawn.

For moon phases visit Moon Phases 2021 – Lunar Calendar (timeanddate.com). For times to watch in your area, check Time and Date. For more information visit NASA In Depth. For more Eta Aquarid and Comet Halley info see Space.

 

Watch for Lyrid meteors this week

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Assuming the weather cooperates, early risers should have no trouble spotting a fireball zooming across the sky shortly before dawn in the next few days. The Lyrids meteor shower is happening now.

They seem to be shooting out (radiant) from the Lyric constellation just northwest of its bright Vega star. They are debris from the comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), first noted more than 2,500 years ago.

The best days to look for them are April 21-22 when the Lyrids are expected to peak at about 18 meteors an hour. Pre dawn is the best time to watch because the moon is waxing gibbous so its illumination won’t be a factor after it sets.

For the time to watch in your zone visit Time and Date. For more information on where to look visit Space which has a map to help find the radiant. For more basic meteor and Lyrid information visit NASA Lyrids.

 

Meteor shower and more

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Look up to take your mind off 2020 politics and pandemic that still plague us on earth. The sky is endlessly interesting with bright planets such as Venus in the early morning eastern sky and Saturn and Jupiter still a cozy couple in the early twilit southwestern sky.

Now, add to the mix the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that has been known to send out from 50 to 100 fireballs an hour. Associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids were named for the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.

The good news in 2021 is that the Quadrantids peak early morning before sunrise Jan. 3. Because sunrise at this time of year in the northern hemisphere is shortly after 7 a.m., the Quadrantids peak time of around 6 a.m. means you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to catch them.

Best plan is to let your eyes acclimate to the darkish sky and look northeast where their radiant (place of origin) will be ascending.

The bad news in 2021 is that the full moon ending 2020 on Dec. 29 (into early morning Dec. 30) is only in its waning gibbous phase. That means the bright, nearly full orb of 81 % illumination, still high in the sky, can outshine the meteor lights.

If you miss the Quadrantids, mark the calendar for the Lyrids meteor shower that peaks April 21-22.

BTW – next three full moons are the Wolf Moon/Old Moon, Moon After Yule on Jan. 28; the Snow Moon/Hunger Moon on Feb. 27 and the Crow Moon/ Lenten Moon/Worm Moon on March 28.

For more meteor shower info visit TimeandDate, Space and EarthSky.