Image credit: NASA/MSFC/B. Cooke
In October 2012, there are two annual meteor showers that give you a chance to see shooting stars
streaking across a dark night sky. First, no matter where you are on
the globe, try the Draconids around nightfall and early evening on
October 7 and 8. Then try the Orionids before dawn on October 21.
EarthSky’s top 10 tips for meteor-watchers
Draconid meteor shower put on a fabulous display in October of last
year (2011). European observers saw over 600 meteors per hour. Image
copyright: Frank Martin Ingilæ. Used with permission. Click here to expand.
October 7, 2012 Draconids
The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with
the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky.
That’s why the Draconids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.
The Draconid shower is a real oddity, in that the radiant point stands
highest in the sky as darkness falls. Unlike many meteor showers, the
Draconids are more likely to fly in the evening hours than in the
morning hours after midnight. This shower is usually a sleeper,
producing only a handful of languid meteors per hour in most years. But
watch out if the Dragon awakes! In rare instances, fiery Draco has been
known to spew forth many hundreds of meteors in a single hour. With no moon to interfere during the evening hours, try watching at nightfall and early evening on October 7 and 8.
August 2012 guide to the five visible planets
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October 21, 2012, before dawn. Orionids
With the waxing crescent moon setting before midnight (on October 20),
that means a dark sky between midnight and dawn, or during the best
viewing hours for the Orionid meteors. On a dark, moonless night, the
Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 15 meteors per hour. These
fast-moving meteors occasionally leave persistent trains and bright
fireballs. If you trace these meteors backward, they seem to come from
the Club of the famous constellation Orion the Hunter. You might know
Orion’s bright, ruddy star Betelgeuse. The radiant is north of
Betelgeuse. The Orionids have a broad and irregular peak that isn’t
easy to predict. More meteors tend to fly after midnight, and the
Orionids are typically at their best in the wee hours before dawn. The best viewing for the Orionids in 2012 will probably be before dawn on October 21..
November 4/5, 2012, late night November 4 until dawn November 5 South Taurids
The South (and North) Taurids are perhaps best suited to die-hard meteor
aficionados. The meteoroid stream that feeds the Taurids is very
spread out and dissipated. That means the Taurids are extremely long
lasting (September 25 to November 25) but usually don’t offer more than
about 7 meteors per hour. That’ll be true even on the South Taurids’
expected peak night of November 4 (before dawn November 5). The
waxing crescent moon sets at early evening, leaving a dark sky for the
South Taurid meteors, which are expected to produce the most meteors in
the wee hours just after midnight on November 5.
November 11/12, 2012, late night November 11 until dawn November 12 North Taurids
This shower is long-lasting (October 12 – December 2) but modest, and
the peak number is forecast at about 7 meteors per hour. Typically, you
see the maximum numbers at around midnight to 1 a.m., when Taurus the
Bull moves nearly overhead. This year, the thin waning crescent moon
won’t rise till close to dawn, leaving a long dark night for these
rather slow-moving but sometimes bright North Taurid meteors. you might
even see some Taurid fireballs. The greatest numbers of North Taurid meteors come just after midnight on November 12..
November 16/17, 2012, late night November 16 until dawn November 17 Leonids
Radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion, the Leonid meteor shower
is famous. Historically, this shower has produced some of the greatest
meteor storms in history – at least one in living memory, 1966 – with
rates as high as many thousands of meteors per hour. Indeed, on that
beautiful night in 1966, the meteors did fall like rain. Some who
watched the shower said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground,
so strong was the impression of Earth plowing along through space,
fording the meteoroid stream. The meteors, after all, were all
streaming from a single point in the sky – the radiant point – in this
case in the constellation Leo the Lion. Leonid meteor storms sometimes
recur in cycles of 33 to 34 years, but the Leonids around the turn of
the century – while wonderful for many observers – did not match the
shower of 1966. And, in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than
roars, producing a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour. Like most
meteor showers, the Leonids ordinarily pick up steam after midnight and
display the greatest meteor numbers just before dawn. In 2012,
however, the waxing crescent moon will setting at early evening, leaving
a dark night for Leonid meteor shower.
December 13/14, 2012, late night December 13 until dawn December 14 Geminids
The final major meteor shower of every year (unless one surprises us!)
is always the December Geminid shower, often producing 50 or more
meteors per hour. It is a beloved shower, because, as a general rule,
it’s either the August Perseids or the December Geminids that give us
the most prolific display of the year. Best of all, the new moon
guarantees a dark sky on the peak night of the Geminid shower
(mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14). But the nights on
either side of the peak date should be good as well. Unlike many meteor
showers, you can start watching the Geminids by 9 or 10 p.m. local time.
The peak might be around 2 a.m. local time on these nights, because
that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen
around the world. With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a
most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers.
Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3
a.m. on December 14.
Create your own printable sunrise/sunset calendar (check moon phase and moonrise/moonset boxes).
Tips for watching meteors
Most important: a dark sky. Here’s the first thing – the main
thing – you need to know to become as proficient as the experts at
watching meteors. That is, to watch meteors, you need a dark sky.
Know your dates and times. You also need to be
looking on the right date, at the right time of night. Meteor showers
occur over a range of dates, because they stem from Earth’s own movement
through space. As we orbit the sun, we cross “meteor streams.” These
streams of icy particles in space come from comets moving in orbit
around the sun. Comets are fragile icy bodies that litter their orbits
with debris. When this cometary debris enters our atmosphere, it
vaporizes due to friction with the air. If moonlight or city lights
don’t obscure the view, we on Earth see the falling, vaporizing
particles as meteors.
What to bring. You can comfortably watch meteors
from many places, assuming you have a dark sky: your back yard or deck,
the hood of your car, the side of a road. If you want to bring along
equipment to make yourself more comfortable, consider a blanket or
reclining lawn chair, a thermos with a hot drink, binoculars for gazing
along the pathway of the summer Milky Way. Be sure to dress warmly
enough. Even the summer nights can be chilly, especially in the hours
before dawn when the most meteors should be flying.
Are the predictions reliable? Although astronomers have tried
to publish exact predictions in recent years, meteor showers remain
notoriously unpredictable. Your best bet is to go outside at the times
we suggest, and plan to spend at least an hour reclining comfortably
while looking up at the sky.
In 2012, the full moon gets in the way of the May Eta Aquarids.
Moon-free nights greet the April Lyrids, the November North Taurids and
the December Geminids. Moonlight should not pose much of a problem for
the October Draconids, October Orionids, November South Taurids and
November Leonids. Some moon-free viewing time is in store for the
January Quadrantids and July Delta Aquarids. Our almanac page provides links for access to the moonrise and moonset times in your sky.
Peak dates are derived from data published in the Observer’s Handbook by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and Guy Ottewell’s Astronomical Calendar.
Thank to: http://earthsky.org
Last edited by Purpleskyz on Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:32 am; edited 1 time in total