Monday, August 10, 2015

Meteor Shower Season

Now that the Summer Solstice is well past, the nights can start to get longer so that we can all do more stargazing. The last half of this year promises to be amazing not just for stars, but also meteor showers.

This week (August 10-14) marks the Perseids Meteor Shower, the herald for the season. This is made even more special as the light pollution due to the Moon will not be there, as the Moon is New this week. The following all come from the 2015 Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events.


The New Moons for the rest of the year each coincide with a major celestial event:


In September:

September 13 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 06:41 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

September 13 - Partial Solar Eclipse. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers only a part of the Sun, sometimes resembling a bite taken out of a cookie. A partial solar eclipse can only be safely observed with a special solar filter or by looking at the Sun's reflection. The partial eclipse will only be visible in southern Africa, Madagascar, and Antarctica.


In October:

October 13 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 00:06 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

October 21, 22 - Orionids Meteor Shower. The Orionids is an average shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from October 2 to November 7. It peaks this year on the night of October 21 and the morning of October 22. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight leaving fairly dark skies for what should be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Orion, but can appear anywhere in the sky.


In November:

November 5, 6 - Taurids Meteor Shower. The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 5. The second quarter moon will block out all but the brightest meteors this year. If you are patient, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

November 11 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 17:47 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

November 17, 18 - Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids is an average shower, producing an up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The shower runs annually from November 6-30. It peaks this year on the night of the 17th and morning of the 18th. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight leaving fairly dark skies for what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.


And Finally in December:

December 11 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 10:29 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

December 13, 14 - Geminids Meteor Shower. The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17. It peaks this year on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. The crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should be an excellent show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.


So get out there and enjoy the Night!