Meteor Section        


Examples of Quadrantid meteors as seen looking north just before dawn from mid-northern latitudes

The Quadrantids are another obscure winter shower usually lost to cloudy weather or sub-freezing temperatures. If your sky is clear on the morning of January 3, 2013, you should check it out as the Quadrantids have the potential of being the strongest shower of the year. This display is active from January 1-10, but intense activity is limited to only six hours centered on the time of maximum activity. In 2013, the peak time is predicted to occur near 1300 Universal Time, which corresponds to 800am EDT and 500am PST on the morning of January 3rd, 2013. Unfortunately this timing is too late for most sites in North America as sunlight or morning twilight will interfere at this time for all but the western quarter of the USA, the western territories of Canada, and Alaska. If caught at maximum and viewed under rural skies, this display has the potential to produce in excess of 100 shower members per hour. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that these rates will be reached as a bright waning gibbous moon will be in the southern sky. If your sky is transparent it will still be possible to see good activity on the morning of the 3rd, no matter your location. Just be certain to watch as late as possible and to face toward the northern half of the sky with the moon at your back. Areas located in high northern latitudes also have the opportunity to view Quadrantid activity as soon as it becomes dark. This would avoid moonlight that interferes with morning observations this year. Favorable areas for such an attempt in 2013 would be Russia and Kazakhstan. For the rest of us, we will have to put up with moonlight and give it our best shot. This will be the last chance at decent meteor activity until the Lyrids peak in April.


Examples of Ursid meteors seen just before dawn while facing north

The week before Christmas is not one usually devoted to meteor observing. That is unfortunate as an obscure shower known as the Ursids reaches maximum activity during this period. It is not a strong display like the Geminids, but is capable of producing 10-15 shower members per hour under ideal conditions. I have seen the Ursids as high as 25 per hour from the low latitudes of southern California. This shower is expected to reach maximum activity near 0800 Universal Time on December 22nd. This corresponds to 0300 EST and midnight PST. There also exists the possibility that another small display of activity may also occur earlier near 0300 UT, also on the 22nd. This corresponds to 2200 (10pm) EST and 1900 (7pm) PST on the evening of December 21st. Unfortunately the waxing gibbous moon will be in the sky during the evening hours and will obscure all but the brightest Ursids. Unless you are viewing from Europe, where the moon will have set by this time, it may be best to wait until after the moon has set on the morning of the 22nd to view Ursid activity. The Ursid radiant, located near the bright orange star Kochab (Beta Ursae Minoris), is also better situated higher in the morning sky during the morning hours. Rates are weak away from maximum so do not expect to see more than 1-2 per hour on any morning other than December 22nd. It would be wise to face toward the northern half of the sky to view these meteors. While some activity can be seen toward the south, more meteors will be shooting downward and sideways out of the radiant and cannot be seen if facing south. These meteors are faster than the Geminids and have a different look to them compared to other showers. It is also unusual to see such activity from such a northern radiant. This also prevents these meteors from being visible from the southern hemisphere.

If your skies are clear on Saturday morning, you should try viewing some of this activity!


Geminid Meteors seen at 7pm

Geminid Meteors seen at Midnight

Geminid Meteors seen at 5am

The Geminid meteor shower is now active and will reach maximum activity on Thursday night/Friday morning December 13/14. Activity is currently low with only 1-2 meteors per hour appearing from this source. Activity will increase each night until maximum activity is reached on the 13/14. After maximum, rates will fall swiftly and Geminid meteors will soon disappear.

On the night of December 13/14, Geminid meteors will appear as soon as becomes dark. Activity will be low but the meteors you see will be long and long-lasting. They will shoot from the northeastern horizon in all directions. Most of them will hug the north or southeastern horizon. Occasionally you will see one shooting straight up and these will be a real treat.

As the night progresses the Geminid meteors will become shorter and will move in all directions, including downward toward the eastern horizon. Activity will also increase as the Geminid radiant (the area of the sky Geminid meteors appear to shoot from) climbs higher into the eastern sky. Near 10pm local standard time (LST), the Geminid radiant will lie approximately half-way up in the eastern sky. At this time viewers from the city can expect to see 10-20 Geminids per hour. If you live in the suburbs then hourly rates should be 20-30 Geminids per hour. If you live in rural areas then hourly rates should be 30-40 Geminids per hour. The reason for this difference is that most of the Geminid meteors are faint. Faint meteors, just like faint stars, are obscured by city lights. The darker your environment, the more meteors you will see.

Geminid activity will continue to increase until 2am LST, when the Geminid radiant will lie nearly overhead. At this time hourly rates should be near 20-30 for city viewers, 40-50 for suburban viewers, and 60-70 for rural viewers. Geminid meteors, like all shower meteors, will appear in “clumps”. One may see nothing for 5 minutes and then see 5 meteors within the next minute. This is why it is important that observers watch for as long as possible. If you watch for a short time you may be watching during a slump in activity and will be disappointed.

After 2am LST the Geminid radiant will drift lower in the western sky. Rates will slowly fall as the radiant altitude decreases.

Not all meteors seen this time of year are Geminids. There are other minor showers active which are both faster and slower than the Geminids. There are also random meteors not associated with any known shower. Roughly 80% of the meteors should be Geminids on December 13/14. This percentage will be less on nights away from maximum. Geminid meteors are of medium speed and their average duration is on the order of a half-second. Brighter Geminids will last longer and Geminid fireballs can last several seconds and exhibit brilliant colors such as orange and green.

I would advise potential viewers not the wait until December 13/14, just in case this night is cloudy. The night of December 11/12 is good and the 12/13th is almost as good as the night of maximum activity. Rates will fall by at least 50% each night after maximum so do not wait until the weekend or you will be out of luck.

Viewers all over the world can see this display of meteors. The only continent where the display is invisible is Antarctica. From there the radiant never rises above the horizon plus daylight lasts 24 hours this time of year. Viewers in the northern hemisphere have a distinct advantage as the nights are longer plus the Geminid radiant rises higher into the sky. Observers in Australia, southern Africa, and South America can best see Geminid activity near 0200 LST or 0300 local daylight saving time, when the radiant lies highest in their northern sky.

Clear Skies!
Robert Lunsford
ALPO Meteors Section

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