Meteor Activity Outlook for April 23-29, 2011

The following is a slightly edited version of Bob Lunsford’s excellent weekly summary of meteor activity. The original version can be found at the American Meteor Society’s site.

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 last quarter phase on Monday April 25. At this time the moon will lie ninety degrees east of the sun and will rise near 0100 LDT (Local Daylight Time) for those situated in the mid-northern latitudes. While the moonlight will cause interference for meteor observing, the effects will be much less than when the moon is near its full phase. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near two 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 nine from the northern hemisphere and twelve as seen from south of the equator. 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 April 23/24. 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 elusive Pi Puppids (PPU) are now active from a radiant located at 07:20 (110) -45. This area of the sky lies in south-central Puppis near the third magnitude star Sigma Puppis. This radiant is best placed as soon as it becomes dark as it culminates during the afternoon hours when the sun is still above the horizon. These meteors are nearly non-existent away from the night of April 24th. Even on that night it would be lucky to spot just one, especially from the northern hemisphere, where the radiant lies low in the southwest at dusk. This shower has produced outbursts in the past so it should be monitored whenever possible, especially from the southern hemisphere. With an entry velocity of only 18 km/sec., the average Pi Puppid meteor would crawl through the sky at a snails pace.

Studies of the IMO video database by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel has revealed a weak radiant active at this time in the constellation of Virgo. Video data shows that the Sigma Leonids (SLE) are active from April 18th through the 25th with maximum activity falling on the 21st. The radiant is currently located at 13:46 (207) +04. This position lies in eastern Virgo, five degrees northwest of the fourth magnitude star Tau Virginis. The radiant is best placed near midnight LDT, when it lies highest above the horizon. At 20km/sec. the Sigma Leonids would produce obvious, slow meteors. Expected rates are less than one per hour no matter your location.

There is also a second new radiant active in Virgo this time of year. Video data shows that the h Virginids (HVR) are active from April 22-25 with maximum activity occurring on the 22nd. On the evening of the 21st (22nd UT), the radiant is located at 14:16 (214) -11. This position lies on the Virgo/Libra border, two degrees southeast of the fourth magnitude star Kappa Virginis. The radiant is best placed near 0200 LDT, when it lies on the meridian and is highest above the horizon. At 24km/sec. the h Virginids would produce more slow meteors. Expected rates would also be less than one per hour no matter your location.

The wide Antihelion (ANT) radiant is now centered at 15:04 (226) -18. This area of the sky lies in central Libra, four degrees southeast of the third magnitude star Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae). This radiant is best placed near 0200 LDT 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 Libra, extreme eastern Hydra, northern Lupus, or western Scorpius could be a candidate for this shower. Rates at this time should be near one per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and two per hour as seen from south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of medium-slow speed.

The major shower known as the Lyrids (LYR) are active from April 16th through the 25th. Maximum activity occurs on the 23rd. The radiant is currently located at 18:13 (273) +32. This position lies on Hercules/Lyra border, nine degrees southwest of the brilliant blue-white zero magnitude magnitude star known as Vega (Alpha Lyrae). The radiant is best placed during the last dark hour before dawn, when it lies highest above the horizon. At 48km/sec. the Lyrids would produce meteors of medium velocity. Expected rates this weekend are near two per hour during the last dark hour before dawn. Due to the northerly declination of the radiant, these meteors are not well seen from high southern latitudes.

The team of Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel have a third weak radiant active at this time in the constellation of Cygnus. Video data shows that the Nu Cygnids (NCY) are active from April 18th through May 7th. Maximum activity occurred on the morning of April 20th. The radiant is currently located at 20:50 (312) +42. This position lies in central Cygnus, three degrees south of the first magnitude star Deneb (Alpha Cygni). The radiant is best placed during the last dark hour before dawn, when it lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. At 42km/sec. the Nu Cygnids would produce meteors of medium velocity. Expected rates are near one per hour during the last dark hour before dawn. Due to the northerly declination of the radiant, these meteors are not well seen from south of the equator.

Activity from the Eta Aquariids (ETA) may be seen late next week. This major shower is active from April 28 through May 21. This shower is caused by particles from Halley’s Comet, produced in Earth-crossing orbits many centuries ago. We pass closest to these orbits from May 5 through the 9th. During this period the Eta Aquariids are at their best, capable of producing ZHR’s of seventy. The actual visible rates are most often less than half this figure due to the low altitude of the radiant at dawn. Observed hourly rates at maximum normally vary from zero at 60 degrees north latitude to 25 near the equator and back down to near zero again in Antarctica, where the radiant elevation is very low. Hourly rates this week are anywhere from zero to two per hour depending on your latitude and observing conditions. Rates will increase significantly as we approach the May 7 maximum. On April 28, the radiant will be located at 22:12 (333) -04. This area of the sky is located in northern Aquarius, three degrees southwest of the fourth magnitude star Gamma Aquarii. The best time to view this activity is just before the start of morning twilight, when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. No matter your location these meteors will appear from the eastern sky and shoot in all directions. If the radiant has sufficient altitude Eta Aquariid meteors can also be seen shooting down toward the eastern horizon. With an entry velocity of 67 kilometers per second, a majority of these meteors will appear to move swiftly with a high percentage of the bright meteors leaving persistent trains. Surprisingly, this shower produces very few fireballs.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately nine 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 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. Evening rates are reduced 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
PPU Pi Puppids            07h 20m  -45    18    <1    <1
SLE Sigma Leonids         13h 46m  +04    20    <1    <1
HVR h Virginids           14h 16m  -11    24    <1    <1
ANT Antihelions           15h 04m  -18    30     1     2
LYR Lyrids                18h 13m  +32    48     2    <1
NCY Nu Cygnids            20h 50m  +42    42    <1    <1
ETA Eta Aquariids         22h 12m  -04    67    <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

About Carl Hergenrother
I am a professional astronomer specializing in the study of comets, asteroids and meteors. This blog will focus on my professional and amateur work in this field

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