Meteor Activity Outlook for January 29-February 4, 2011

February offers the meteor observer in the northern hemisphere a couple of weak showers plus falling sporadic rates. This may not seem too exiting but you never know when surprises are in store. An errant earthgrazer from the Centaurid complex may shoot northward. Better yet, a bright fireball may light up the sky. February is the start of the fireball season, when an abundance of fireballs seem to occur. This lasts well into April and seems to occur mostly during the early evening hours.

Observers in the southern hemisphere are treated to the Alpha Centaurid peak on the 8th plus the entire Centaurid complex of radiants is active all month long. Sporadic rates are slightly less than those seen in January, but still stronger than those witnessed north of the equator.

During this period the moon reaches its new phase on Thursday February 3rd. At that time the moon lies near the sun and is invisible at night. This weekend the waning crescent moon will rise during the early morning hours but will not cause any problems as long as you keep it out of your field of view. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near three no matter your location. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near thirteen no matter your location. 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.

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 January 29/30. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period.

The following showers are expected to be active this week:

Antihelions (ANT)

The wide Antihelion (ANT) radiant is now centered at 09:32 (143) +13. This area of the sky lies in western Leo, eight degrees northwest of the first magnitude star Regulus (Alpha Leonis). This radiant is best placed near 0100 local standard time (LST) when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Due to the large size of this radiant, any meteor radiating from northwestern Hydra, western Leo, or Cancer could be a candidate for this shower. 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 medium-slow speed.

December Leonis Minorids (DLM)

This is the last week to see activity from the December Leonis Minorids (DLM) until next December. Activity would be produced from a radiant located at 13:07 (197) +13. This position lies in northern Virgo, two degrees northeast of the second magnitude star Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis). These meteors are best seen near 0500 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked on December 20th so current rates would be less than one per hour no matter your location. At 64km/sec. the December Leonis Minorids produce mostly swift meteors.

Alpha Centaurids (ACE)

The Alpha Centaurids (ACE) are now active from a radiant located at 13:26 (202) -57. This position lies in southeastern Centaurus, three degrees southwest of the second magnitude star Epsilon Centauri. The radiant is best placed during the last dark hour before dawn, when it lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. At this position, these meteors are only visible south of 35 degrees north latitude. The further one is located south (down to 60S) the better the radiant is situated in the sky. Current rates rates from the southern hemisphere is near one per hour. At 56km/sec. the Alpha Centaurids would produce mostly swift meteors.

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 also be near twelve 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.

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

Shower Name                 RA     DEC   Vel     Rates
                                         km/s   NH    SH
ANT Antihelions           09h 32m  +13    30     2     2
DLM Dec Leonis Minorids   13h 07m  +13    64    <1    <1
ACE Alpha Centaurids      13h 26m  -57    56    <1     1

RA - Right Ascension
DEC - Declination
Vel - Velocity relative to Earth (in km per sec)
Rates - Rate of visible meteors per hour from a dark site
NH - Northern Hemisphere
SH - Southern Hemisphere

Meteor Activity Outlook for January 22-28, 2011

The Meteor Activity Outlook is a weekly summary of expected meteor activity written by Robert Lunsford, Operations Manager of the American Meteor Society and contributor to this blog. The original unedited version of this week’s Meteor Activity Outlook can be found at the American Meteor Society’s site.

January sees a peak of sporadic activity for the southern hemisphere while rates seen north of the equator begin a steady downward turn that continues throughout the first half of the year. The sporadic activity is good for both hemispheres, but not as good as it was for northern observers in December. Once the Quadrantids have passed the shower activity for January is very quiet.

During this period the moon reaches its last quarter phase on Wednesday January 26th. At that time the moon lies ninety degrees west of the sun and rises near midnight local standard time. Meteor observing can be undertaken at this time as long as the moon is not in your field of view. This weekend the waning gibbous moon will rise during the late evening hours and will remain in the sky the remainder of the night. It will be difficult to view under these circumstances unless you have extremely transparent skies. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near three no matter your location. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near six no matter your location. 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. Rates are reduced by moonlight during this period.

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 January 22/23. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period.

The following showers are expected to be active this week. The detailed descriptions will be continued next week when the moonlight is not as intense.

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

Shower Name                 RA     DEC   Vel     Rates
                                         km/s   NH    SH
ANT Antihelions           08h 32m  +16    30     2     1
DLM Dec Leonis Minorids   12h 43m  +16    64     1    <1
GMU Gamma Ursa Minorids   15h 16m  +67    42    <1    <1

RA - Right Ascension
DEC - Declination
Vel - Velocity relative to Earth (in km per sec)
Rates - Rate of visible meteors per hour from a dark site
NH - Northern Hemisphere
SH - Southern Hemisphere

Jan 13/14 to 21/22 Meteors

All around the world, fireball sightings are being reported. Unfortunately, there just isn’t much going on above my cameras. With the Moon just a few days past Full, rates have been pretty low. Then again, this time of the year is usually a slow one for meteors as no major showers are active, there are only a few minor ones producing any detectable activity, and even the background sporadic rate is near a yearly low.

Obs  Date(UT)      Time    TOT SPO ANT DLM XCB SCC
SAL3 2011-01-22   11h 53m   9   7   1   1   -   -
ALLS 2011-01-22   12h 11m   8   4   1   3   -   -
SAL3 2011-01-21   11h 54m   17  15  1   1   -   -
ALLS 2011-01-21   12h 24m   15  13  1   1   -   -
SAL3 2011-01-20   11h 55m   14  14  0   0   -   -
ALLS 2011-01-20   12h 25m   9   8   0   1   -   -
SAL3 2011-01-19   11h 56m   12  9   2   1   -   -
ALLS 2011-01-19   12h 26m   9   9   0   0   -   -
SAL3 2011-01-18   11h 58m   17  13  2   2   -   0
ALLS 2011-01-18   12h 27m   6   4   2   0   -   0
SAL3 2011-01-17   11h 58m   11  10  0   1   -   0
ALLS 2011-01-17   12h 28m   8   8   0   0   -   0
SAL3 2011-01-16   11h 25m   17  14  0   2   -   1
ALLS 2011-01-16   11h 41m   10  9   0   1   -   0
SAL3 2011-01-15   11h 59m   12  9   1   1   0   1
ALLS 2011-01-15   12h 26m   8   7   0   1   0   0
SAL3 2011-01-14   11h 41m   22  16  2   3   1   0
ALLS 2011-01-14   11h 57m   9   8   1   0   0   0

SAL3 - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
ALLS - Near all-sky camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIST - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VISH - Visual observations from Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
HERM - PARENI camera in Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
SDG - Camera in San Diego operated by Bob Lunsford
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions   
HYD - Sigma Hydrids
DLM - December Leonis Minorids
AHY - Alpha Hydrids
XCB - Xi Coronae Borealids
SCC - South Delta Cancrids

Jan 8/9 to 12/13 Meteors

Playing a bit of catch up here with nightly meteor summaries… Same will be the case with the next few posts.

Obs  Date(UT)      Time    TOT SPO ANT DLM AHY XCB QUA
SAL3 2011-01-13   12h 02m   27  23  1   2   -   1   -
ALLS 2011-01-13   12h 31m   16  12  2   2   -   0   -
SAL3 2011-01-12   12h 03m   6   5   0   0   -   1   -
ALLS 2011-01-12   12h 25m   2   1   0   0   -   1   -
SAL3 2011-01-11   12h 03m   22  18  3   1   -   0   -
ALLS 2011-01-11   12h 33m   12  9   1   2   -   0   -
SAL3 2011-01-10   12h 04m   15  14  1   0   -   0   0
ALLS 2011-01-10   12h 34m   9   6   1   1   -   0   1
SAL3 2011-01-09   11h 47m   14  8   0   3   0   2   1
ALLS 2011-01-09   12h 02m   10  5   0   1   0   3   1

SAL3 - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
ALLS - Near all-sky camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIST - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VISH - Visual observations from Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
HERM - PARENI camera in Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
SDG - Camera in San Diego operated by Bob Lunsford
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions   
HYD - Sigma Hydrids
DLM - December Leonis Minorids
AHY - Alpha Hydrids
XCB - Xi Coronae Borealids
QUA - Quadrantids

January 31/1 to 7/8 Meteors

The first week of the year marks the end of an annual stretch of high meteor activity that started in July. In particular the week includes the Quadrantids, the last major shower (at least for northern observers) until April (for the barely major Lyrids). The next really good shower won’t be till August (Perseids).

As in most years the Quadrantids were a difficult shower to observe due to its short peak time (only ~12 hours versus 1 or more days for other major showers). This year the peak occurred hours before the radiant was high enough in AZ to see any meteors.

According to visual reports to the IMO, this year’s Quadrantids had a peak ZHR of ~90. By the time the radiant was high enough over AZ to detect any activity the ZHR had fallen to ~30.

Obs  Date(UT)      Time    TOT SPO ANT DLM AHY JLE QUA
SAL3 2011-01-08   12h 06m   24  17  4   1   1   -   1
ALLS 2011-01-08   12h 36m   17  12  1   0   1   -   3
SAL3 2011-01-07   12h 06m   14  12  2   0   0   -   0
ALLS 2011-01-07   12h 36m   12  9   0   2   1   -   0
SAL3 2011-01-06   00h 49m   2   1   0   1   0   0   0
ALLS 2011-01-06   12h 37m   2   1   0   1   0   0   0
SAL3 2011-01-05   12h 08m   11  9   0   0   1   0   1
ALLS 2011-01-05   12h 38m   8   6   1   0   0   0   1
SAL3 2011-01-04   10h 02m   38  17  0   3   1   1   16
ALLS 2011-01-04   12h 12m   29  12  0   2   0   0   15
SAL3 2011-01-03   06h 24m   18  10  1   1   0   0   6
ALLS 2011-01-03   12h 39m   10  4   0   1   0   1   4
SAL3 2011-01-02   12h 09m   20  14  3   0   0   1   2
ALLS 2011-01-02   12h 39m   9   7   0   0   0   0   2
SAL3 2011-01-01   10h 24m   17  13  1   0   1   1   1
ALLS 2011-01-01   12h 40m   3   2   0   0   1   0   0

SAL3 - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
ALLS - Near all-sky camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIST - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VISH - Visual observations from Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
HERM - PARENI camera in Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
SDG - Camera in San Diego operated by Bob Lunsford
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions   
HYD - Sigma Hydrids
DLM - December Leonis Minorids
AHY - Alpha Hydrids
JLE - January Leonis Minorids
QUA - Quadrantids

Meteor Activity Outlook for January 8-14, 2011

The Meteor Activity Outlook is a weekly summary of expected meteor activity written by Robert Lunsford, Operations Manager of the American Meteor Society and contributor to this blog. The original unedited version of this week’s Meteor Activity Outlook can be found at the American Meteor Society’s site.

January sees a peak of sporadic activity for the southern hemisphere while rates seen north of the equator begin a steady downward turn that continues throughout the first half of the year. The sporadic activity is good for both hemispheres, but not as good as it was for northern observers in December. Once the Quadrantids have passed the shower activity for January is very quiet.

During this period the moon reaches its first quarter phase on Wednesday January 12th. At this time the moon lies ninety degrees east of the sun and sets near midnight LST (Local Standard Time). This weekend the waxing crescent moon will set during the mid-evening hours allowing a majority of the night to be free from interfering moonlight. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near three from the northern hemisphere and three for observers south of the equator. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near eighteen from the northern hemisphere and sixteen as seen from the southern hemisphere. 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 by 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 January 8/9. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period.

The following showers are expected to be active this week:

Antihelions (ANT)

The wide Antihelion (ANT) radiant is now centered at 08:04 (121) +19. This area of the sky lies in western Cancer, ten degrees southeast of the bright first magnitude star Pollux (Beta Geminorum). This radiant is best placed near 0100 (LST) when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Due to the large size of this radiant, any meteor radiating from eastern Gemini, Canis Minor, southern Lynx, northwestern Hydra, or Cancer could be a candidate for this shower. Rates at this time should be near two per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and one per hour for observers located south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of medium-slow speed.

December Leonis Minorids (DLM)

The December Leonis Minorids (DLM) are active from a radiant located at 11:55 (179) +22. This position lies in a blank area near the Leo/Coma Berenices border, seven degrees north of the second magnitude star Denebola (Beta Leonis). These meteors are best seen near 0500 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked on December 20th so current rates would be near two per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and one per hour as seen from south of the equator. At 64km/sec. the December Leonis Minorids produce mostly swift meteors.

Quadrantids (QUA)

The Quadrantids (QUA) or January Bootids are active from January 1st through the 10th. A sharp maximum occurred between 2300 on January 3 and 0400 Universal Time on the 4th when zenith hourly rates exceeded 100 per hour. The last remnants of this shower for 2011 may be seen this weekend from a radiant located at 15:32 (233) +49. This position lies in a bare region of extreme northern Bootes, ten degrees south of the fourth magnitude star Iota Draconis. At 42 km/sec. the Quadrantids produce meteors of medium velocity.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately fourteen 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 also be near fourteen 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. Rates are reduced during the evening hours due to moonlight.

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

Shower Name                 RA     DEC   Vel     Rates
                                         km/s   NH    SH
ANT Antihelions           08h 04m  +19    30     2     1
DLM Dec Leonis Minorids   11h 55m  +22    64     2     1
QUA Quadrantids           15h 32m  +49    42    <1    <1

RA - Right Ascension
DEC - Declination
Vel - Velocity relative to Earth (in km per sec)
Rates - Rate of visible meteors per hour from a
        dark site
NH - Northern Hemisphere
SH - Southern Hemisphere

End of the Year Meteors

The last week or so of the year was fairly low-key meteor-wise with no major showers active. The period also saw 2 storms affect southern AZ. The second of the pair ended SALSA3′s long running streak of consecutive nights with a detection at 95 nights.

Obs  Date(UT)      Time    TOT SPO ANT HYD DLM MON COM URS AHY
SAL3 2010-12-31   12h 10m   12  10  1   -   1   -   -   -   0
ALLS 2010-12-31   12h 40m   10  8   0   -   2   -   -   -   0
SAL3 2010-12-30   00h 00m    Rain/clouds all night long
ALLS 2010-12-30   00h 00m    Rain/Clouds all night long
SAL3 2010-12-29   11h 49m   26  21  2   -   3   -   -   -   -
ALLS 2010-12-29   12h 04m   7   6   0   -   1   -   -   -   -
SAL3 2010-12-28   11h 58m   14  13  1   -   0   -   -   -   -
ALLS 2010-12-28   12h 14m   9   7   2   -   0   -   -   -   -
SAL3 2010-12-27   01h 39m   4   3   0   -   1   -   -   -   -
ALLS 2010-12-27   09h 38m   3   3   0   -   0   -   -   -   -
SAL3 2010-12-26   09h 34m   18  17  1   -   0   -   -   -   -
ALLS 2010-12-26   09h 51m   5   5   0   -   0   -   -   -   -
SAL3 2010-12-25   12h 12m   15  9   2   -   4   -   -   -   -
ALLS 2010-12-25   10h 50m   11  9   0   -   0   -   -   -   -
SAL3 2010-12-24   12h 12m   28  23  5   -   0   -   -   0   -
ALLS 2010-12-24   12h 39m   14  9   2   -   4   -   -   0   -
SAL3 2010-12-23   01h 01m   2   2   0   -   0   -   0   0   -
ALLS 2010-12-23   00h 00m    Camera left off due to rain
SAL3 2010-12-22   00h 19m   1   1   0   -   0   -   0   0   -
ALLS 2010-12-22   00h 00m    Camera left off due to rain
SAL3 2010-12-21   00h 19m   1   0   0   0   0   -   1   0   -
ALLS 2010-12-21   00h 19m   1   0   0   0   0   -   1   0   -
SAL3 2010-12-20   06h 46m   14  8   2   0   3   0   1   0   -
ALLS 2010-12-20   11h 21m   11  5   1   0   4   0   1   0   -

SAL3 - SALSA3 camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
ALLS - Near all-sky camera in Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VIST - Visual observations from Tucson (Carl Hergenrother)
VISH - Visual observations from Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
HERM - PARENI camera in Hermosillo (Salvador Aguirre)
SDG - Camera in San Diego operated by Bob Lunsford
Time - Total amount of time each camera looked for meteors
TOT - Total number of meteors detected
SPO - Sporadics (meteors not affiliated with any particular meteor shower)
ANT - Antihelions   
HYD - Sigma Hydrids
DLM - December Leonis Minorids
MON - Monocerotids
COM - Coma Berenicids
URS - Ursids
AHY - Alpha Hydrids

Meteor Activity Outlook for January 1-7, 2011

The Meteor Activity Outlook is a weekly summary of expected meteor activity written by Robert Lunsford, Operations Manager of the American Meteor Society and contributor to this blog. The original unedited version of this week’s Meteor Activity Outlook can be found at the American Meteor Society’s site.

January sees a peak of sporadic activity for the southern hemisphere while rates seen north of the equator begin a steady downward turn that continues throughout the first half of the year. The sporadic activity is good for both hemispheres, but not as good as it was for northern observers in December. Once the Quadrantids have passed the shower activity for January is very quiet.

During this period the moon reaches its new phase on Tuesday January 4th. At this time the moon lies near the sun and is not visible at night. This will be the best time of the month to view meteor activity as the moon will not interfere plus the meteor rates will be at their highest. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near eight from the northern hemisphere and two for observers south of the equator. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near forty-five from the northern hemisphere and twenty as seen from the southern hemisphere. 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.

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 January 1/2. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period.

The following showers are expected to be active this week:

Antihelions (ANT)

The wide Antihelion (ANT) radiant is now centered at 07:36 (114) +21. This area of the sky lies in eastern Gemini, seven degrees south of the bright first magnitude star Pollux (Beta Geminorum). This radiant is best placed near 0100 local standard time (LST) when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Due to the large size of this radiant, any meteor radiating from Gemini, Canis Minor, eastern Auriga, southern Lynx or Cancer could be a candidate for this shower. Rates at this time should be near three per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and two per hour for observers located south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of medium-slow speed.

Alpha Hydrids (AHY)

The Alpha Hydrids (AHY) are active from December 30th through January 8th. Peak activity occurred on December 31. Rates would most likely now be less than one per hour, no matter your location. The radiant is currently located at 08:28 (127) -08. This position lies in extreme western Hydra, fifteen degrees west of the second magnitude star Alphard (Alpha Hydrae). 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.

January Leonids (JLE)

Studies of the IMO’s video database by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel has shown an active radiant in Leo this time of year. The January Leonids (JLE) are active from December 31st to January 5th with maximum activity occurring on January 1st. On the 1st 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.

December Leonis Minorids (DLM)

The December Leonis Minorids (DLM) are active from a radiant located at 11:58 (173) +25. This position lies in a blank area of northeastern Leo, directly between the bright stars Denebola (Beta Leonis) and Nu Ursae Majoris. These meteors are best seen near 0500 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked on December 20th so current rates would be near two per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and one per hour as seen from south of the equator. At 64km/sec. the December Leonis Minorids produce mostly swift meteors.

Quadrantids (QUA)

The Quadrantids (QUA) or January Bootids are active from January 1st through the 10th. A sharp maximum is predicted to occur near 0100 Universal Time on the 4th. This corresponds to 20:00 (8pm) EST and 17:00 (5pm) PST on the evening of January 3. This is bad timing for viewers located in North America as the radiant will either be low or beneath the northwestern horizon. At such low radiant elevations very little Quadrantid activity can be expected to be seen. Your best bet is to wait until the morning of the 4th when the radiant was risen in the northeastern sky. From 0100 to dawn expect to see up to 25 Quadrantids per hour. Observers viewing from eastern Europe and western Asia will have the maximum occur during the morning hours when the radiant lies high in the sky. They can expect to see near 60 Quadrantids per hour, perhaps more if the shower is especially active. The radiant is located at 15:21 (230) +49. This position lies in a bare 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 fifteen 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 thirteen per hour as seen from rural observing sites and three per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures.

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

Shower Name                 RA     DEC   Vel     Rates
                                         km/s   NH    SH
ANT Antihelions           07h 36m  +21    30     3     2
AYD Alpha Hydrids         08h 28m  -08    61    <1    <1
JLE January Leonids       09h 46m  +24    54    <1    <1
DLM Dec Leonis Minorids   11h 58m  +25    71     2     1
QUA Quadrantids           15h 21m  +49    42     5    <1

RA - Right Ascension
DEC - Declination
Vel - Velocity relative to Earth (in km per sec)
Rates - Rate of visible meteors per hour from a
        dark site
NH - Northern Hemisphere
SH - Southern Hemisphere

In The Sky This Month – January 2011

This feature highlights a number of meteor showers, comets and asteroids which are visible during the month of January 2011.

January 2011 Highlights
* Quadrantids Meteor Shower peaks on Jan 4
* Jupiter rules the evening sky, while...
* Venus dominates the morning sky with ...
* Mercury also in the midst of a good morning apparition

Note: If anyone has pictures or observations of these objects/events and want to share them with my readers, send them to the Transient Sky at <transientsky1@yahoo.com>.

Planets

Moon - The table below lists important lunar dates for the month, including the phases of the Moon and nights of lunar-planetary and lunar-stellar conjunctions.

Jan 1 - Moon 3° from bright star Antares
Jan 2 - Moon 4° from Mercury
Jan 4 - New Moon
Jan 10 - Moon 6° from Jupiter and Uranus
Jan 12 - First Quarter Moon
Jan 15 - Moon 1.3° from Pleiades
Jan 16 - Moon 8° from bright star Aldebaran
Jan 19 - Full Moon 9° from bright star Pollux
Jan 20 - Moon 4° from Beehive Cluster
Jan 21 - Moon 5° from bright star Regulus
Jan 25 - Moon 8° from Saturn and 3° from bright star Spica
Jan 26 - Third Quarter Moon
Jan 29 - Moon 3° from bright star Antares
Jan 30 - Moon 4° from Venus

Jupiter (and Uranus, too…) - The ‘King of the Planets’ continues his reign as the uncontested ‘King of the Evening Sky’ though fading from magnitude -2.3 to -2.2, nothing but the Moon rivals it in brightness. Located on the Pisces/Aquarius border, Jupiter is easy to find in the south as it gets dark. Jupiter then spends the rest of the evening getting lower in the southwest sky.

If you have a pair of binoculars or small telescope take a look at Jupiter. See if you can see any of its 4 bright Galilean moons or its large atmospheric belts (there are usually 2 prominent belts but 1 has recently disappeared though it may make a comeback at any time). In addition, Jupiter is close to Uranus all month long. On Jan 4 the two are 0.5° apart.

Jan 4 - Jupiter and Uranus within 0.5° of each other
Jan 10 - Moon within 6-7° of Jupiter and Uranus

Saturn – Saturn rises during the middle of the night. Located in Virgo, the ringed planet is a close match in brightness (mag +0.7) to Spica, the brightest star in Virgo (mag +1.0). Saturn spends the entire month within 8-9° of Spica.

Jan 25 - Moon within 8° of Saturn

Venus – After passing through inferior conjunction in late October , Venus is now the dominant sight in the morning sky. On Dec 1, Venus rises almost 3 hours before the Sun in the eastern sky. Unlike this year’s evening apparition which was poorly placed, Venus’ current stay in the morning sky will be a good one for northern observers. Through a telescope it currently looks like a brilliant ‘half moon’.

Jan 8 - Venus at Greatest Elongation West
Jan 17 - Venus within 8° of bright star Antares
Jan 30 - Moon within 3.5° of Venus

Mercury – Mercury is in the middle of a good morning apparition all month long.

Jan 2 - Moon within 4° of Mercury
Jan 9 - Greatest Elongation West

Mars – Too close to the Sun for observation.

Meteors

Meteor activity starts to plummet in January. The year is usually split in 2 with January through June having low rates with few major showers while July through December (really through the 1st week of January) have high rates with many major showers.

Sporadic Meteors

Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are Sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During September, 10-16 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.

Major Meteor Showers

Quadrantids (QUA) [Max Date = Jan 4, Max Rate = ~60-150 per hour under dark skies]

The Quadrantids are the best shower that you’ve probably never heard of. It’s bad enough that this shower peaks in the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, but it is also named after a long defunct constellation. When first identified in the early 1800s, the meteors were observed to radiate from the small faint constellation of Quadrans Muralis (the Mural Quadrant). Unfortunately, the constellation didn’t make the cut when the official list of 80 constellations was set in 1930. Today, Quadrans Muralis and the radiant of the Quadrantids can be found on the northern reaches of the constellation Bootes.

Another strike against observing the Quadrantids is their short duration. Most showers, like the Perseids and Orionids, produce high rates of meteors for a few days near their maximum. The Quadrantids are only highly active for 12-24 hours. As a result, the shower can be missed if the peak does not coincide with your early morning observing.

The peak time for this shower is always uncertain on the order of half a day or so and the IMO prediction calls for a peak some time between 21:00 UT on Jan 3 and 6:00 UT on Jan 4. This well placed for observers in Europe. Here in the US activity during the prime early morning hours should be rapidly tailing off.

Back in 2009 this shower put on a great show with the peak well observed from the US. Peak rates that year reached a ZHR of ~150-160. But in 2008, rates “only” reached into the 80s. With the Moon near New the sky will be dark. Who knows what we’ll get this year so we’ll just have to brave the cold and see.

Minor Meteor Showers

Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors. Starting this month, info on most of the minor showers will be provided on a weekly basis by Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook.

Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the following sites: Wayne Hally’s and Mark Davis’s NAMN Notes, and the International Meteor Organization’s 2010 Meteor Shower Calendar.

Comets

Naked Eye Comets (V < 6.0)

None

Binocular Comets (V = 6.0 – 8.0)

None

Small Telescope Comets (V = 8.0 – 10.0)

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 – Comet 103P/Hartley 2 continues its retreat from the Earth and Sun. Well past its late October peak in brightness, the comet starts January around magnitude 8-9 and should steadily fade to around magnitude 9-10 by the end of the month.

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103P was discovered at Siding Spring Observatory (Australia) on March 15, 1986 by  Malcolm Hartley. With an orbital period of 6.47 years, the comet’s orbit currently stretches from 1.06 AU to 5.89 AU from the Sun. Though not an especially big comet, this year it passed 0.12 AU from Earth on October 21 allowing the comet to get much brighter than usual.The comet starts the month at a distance of 1.37 AU from the Sun and 0.47 AU from Earth. By mid-month it will be 1.49 AU from the Sun and 0.57 AU from Earth. At the end of the month, Hartley 2 will be 1.62 AU and 0.73 AU from the Sun and Earth, respectively.
The comet is located in the southern part of the winter Milky Way. Slowly moving north 103P will spend most of the month in Canis Major before crossing the border back into Monoceros near the end of the month. It is a month past opposition and is highest in the sky during the middle of the night.
 

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On November 4 the NASA EPOXI (ex-Deep Impact) spacecraft encountered Hartley 2 giving us close-up views of the comet’s nucleus. This is the xth comet visited by a spacecraft after Comets 21P/Giacobini-Zinner (1985), 1P/Halley (1986), 19P/Borelly (2001), 81P/Wild 2 (2004), 9P/Tempel 1 (2005). On February 15, 2011, Tempel 1 will be the first comet to be re-visited by a spacecraft.

A finder chart for Comet Hartley 2 can be found at Comet Chasing and Sky and Telescope.

A nice collection of images can be found at the VdS-Fachgruppe Kometen (Comet Section of Germany) and Seiichi Yoshida’s Comet Homepage.

Asteroids

Binocular and Small Telescope Asteroids (V < 9.0)

(7) Iris

Iris is an inner Main-Belt asteroid that can occassionally get as bright as any asteroid. This year, Iris will not get as bright but will still become a binocular object at opposition on January 24 at magnitude 7.9. During December, it is located in the constellation of Cancer a few degrees to the southwest of the Beehive Cluster. It starts the month at magnitude 8.3, brightens to 7.9 at opposition on the 24th and then fades to 8.1 at the end of the month..

With a size of 240 x 200 x 200 km, Iris is the 5th largest stoney S-type asteroid. It was discovered in 1847 by John Russel Hind, the 1st of 10 asteroids he discovered.

A finder chart (needs to be flipped upside down for Northern Hemisphere observers) can be found at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Finder chart for Ceres from Heavens Above.

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