Meteor Activity Outlook for December 17-23, 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.

No matter where you live, the first half of December provides some of the best meteor activity of the year. Unfortunately in 2011, the moon will spoil much of this activity as I reaches its full phase on the 10th. In the northern hemisphere the sporadic rates are still strong plus you can also count on strong activity from the Geminids, which peak on December 14. There are also several minor radiants that add a few meteors each hour. All of these centers of activity are located high in the sky during the early morning hours this time of year. Much of the activity mentioned above can also be seen from the southern hemisphere. While the sporadic rates are not as strong as those seen from the north, they are stronger than the previous months and heading for a maximum in February. The warm, but short summer nights south of the equator make for some great viewing as long as the moon does not interfere.

During this period the moon reaches it last quarter phase on Sunday December 18th. The half illuminated moon is still very bright and must be kept out of your field of view for successful meteor observations. During this period, the evening hours, which are unfortunately much less active with meteors, will be completely free of any interfering moonlight.  As the week progresses the moon will wane in phase and will rise approximately forty-five minutes later with each passing night. With this scenario, viewing conditions during the more active morning hours will improve with each passing night. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near five 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 twelve two as seen from mid-northern latitudes and eight 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. 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 December 17/18. 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 weekNow that particles produced by comet 2P/Encke are no longer encountering the Earth, the Taurid showers for 2011 are over and we resume reporting activity from the Antihelion (ANT) radiant. This is not a true radiant but rather activity caused by the Earth’s motion through space. As the Earth revolves around the sun it encounters particles orbiting in a prograde motion that are approaching their perihelion point. They all appear to be radiating from an area near the opposition point of the sun, hence the name Antihelion. These were once recorded as separate showers throughout the year but it is now suggested to bin them into a category separate from true showers and sporadics. This radiant is a very large oval some thirty degrees wide by fifteen degrees high. Activity from this radiant can appear from more than one constellation. The position listed here is for the center of the radiant which is currently located at 06:36 (099) +23. This position lies in western Gemini, three degrees southwest of the third magnitude star Epsilon Geminorum. Antihelion activity may also appear from eastern Taurus, northeastern Orion, or southern Auriga. This radiant is best placed near midnight local standard time (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 last of the Monocerotids (MON) may be seen this weekend from a radiant located at 07:03 (106) +07. This position lies on the Monoceros/Canis Minor border, ten degrees west of the brilliant zero magnitude star Procyon (Alpha Canis Minoris). Rates would be less than one per hour no matter your location. The Monocerotids are best seen near 0100 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 41 km/sec. the Monocerotids produce mostly meteors of medium velocity.

The last of the Sigma Hydrids (HYD) may be seen this weekend from a radiant located at 08:54 (134) +00. This position lies in western Hydra, five degrees south of the third magnitude star Zeta Hydrae. Rates would be less than one per hour no matter your location. The Sigma Hydrids are best seen near 0300 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 61 km/sec. the Sigma Hydrids produce mostly swift meteors.

The December Leonis Minorids (DLM) are active from a radiant located at 10:39 (160) +31. This position lies in eastern Leo Minor, ten degrees northeast of the third magnitude star Zeta Leonis. These meteors are best seen near 0500 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaks 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 Coma Berenicids (COM) are active from a radiant located at 11:51 (178) +18. This position actually lies in eastern Leo, two degrees north of the second magnitude star Denebola (Beta Leonis). These meteors are best seen near 0600 LST when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. This shower peaked on December 16th so current rates would be near one per hour no matter your location. This week will be your only opportunity to see these meteors as the shower will be over by the 23rd. At 65 km/sec. the Coma Berenicids produce mostly swift meteors.

Activity from the  Ursids (URS) may begin to appear this weekend from a radiant located at 13:58 (210) +76. This position lies in eastern Ursa Minor, fifteen degrees east of the second magnitude star Kochab (Beta Ursa Minoris). It must be remembered that the length of degrees are smaller in high declinations so the radiant is actually closer to this star than these figures inply. These meteors are best seen during the last dark hour before dawn, when the radiant lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. This shower is not well seen from the southern hemisphere. Maximum activity is not expected until Friday December 23th, so current hourly rates would probably be less than one. On the morning of maximum, hourly rates of between 5-10 Ursids may be seen. At 33 km/sec. the Ursids produce mostly medium-slow meteors.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately eight 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 five 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. Morning 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
ANT Antihelions           06h 36m  +23    30     2     1
MON Monocerotids          07h 03m  +07    41    <1    <1
HYD Sigma Hydrids         08h 54m  +00    61    <1    <1
DLM Dec Leonis Minorids   10h 39m  +31    64     1     1
COM Coma Berenicids       11h 51m  +18    65     1     1
URS Ursida                13h 58m  +76    33    <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
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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

One Response to Meteor Activity Outlook for December 17-23, 2011

  1. Pam says:

    I just saw a fireball over the horizon, Eastward as I was exiting Oakland International Airport at around 6:37 am. It just sort of disappeared.

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