Meteor Activity 2015 February to 2016 JanuaryEdited by Tony Markham
This guide has been compiled with visual observers in mind. The observing prospects will be largely similar for imagers using DSLR cameras or video cameras. Imagers may, however, be able to cope better with moonlit conditions.
In 2014, Perseid maximum was badly affected by moonlight, but the autumn showers, including the Orionids and Geminids, fared better.
The great news for 2015 is that the maxima of the Perseids, Orionids and Geminids are all due to occur in largely moon-free skies.
Virginids / Spring Antihelion SourceAfter the Quadrantids of January, night time meteor rates are rather low for northern hemisphere observers. However, from mid February to early May there are a number of minor showers with radiants close to the ecliptic. Older sources collectively refer to these as the Virginids, whilst more recently lists treat them (and later showers such as the Capricornids and Piscids) as being part of an "Antihelion source" that is assumed to be active throughout the year from an area of sky located about 180 degrees from the Sun. Minor showers historically grouped together as the "Virginids" included the Delta Leonids (max Feb 26), the Alpha Virginids (max Apr 11-12) and the Gamma Virginids (max Apr 14). Peak rates from this collection of minor showers generally occur in early April.
New Moon in 2015 occurs on Feb 18, Mar 20 and Apr 18.
Lyrids max Apr 23d 00h UTChart. Lyrid activity can be seen from Apr 18-25 each year. For observers at northern latitudes, the Lyrid radiant is above the horizon all night. As for many of the major meteor showers, observed rates pick up as the radiant altitude increases during the night, so meteor watches after midnight are the most productive. The Lyrids are the main night time meteor shower of the spring months for northern hemisphere observers. Although they don't usually produce observed rates comparable with major showers that occur later in the year, the Lyrids do stand out relative to the low background activity of the spring months. Some intense but brief Lyrid outbursts have occasionally been seen, such as in 1982.
Good rates should be seen during the nights of Apr 21-22 and Apr 22-23. During the night of Apr 22-23 the Crescent Moon will set before midnight
Eta Aquarids max May 5-6This shower, resulting from the Earth's post-perihelion encounter with the meteoroid stream of comet Halley, is active from late April to mid May and produces higher peak ZHR values than do the Lyrids. However, while easy to observe from the southern hemisphere and from the tropics, for observers in northern Europe dawn is approaching before the radiant reaches a reasonable altitude. Thus, in most years, observers at northern latitudes can only expect low observed rates.
In 2013 enhanced Eta Aquarid rates were seen due to the Earth encountering a number of meteor trails from 8-11 centuries ago. Some UK based observers who had never before seen an Eta Aquarid saw several in 2013. Currently there are no predictions of enhancements for 2015 (although it should be remembered that the 2013 enhancement prediction was only issued a few days before the peak).
In 2015, the Eta Aquarid peak occurs a day after Full Moon. This is not that significant a problem as the Moon will be heading towards the western horizon by the time that the Eta Aquarid radiant rises in the east.
The Eta Aquarid radiant is in northern Aquarius, at RA 22h20m, Dec -01.
Daytime showersFor observers at northern latitudes the Eta Aquarids are almost a daytime-only shower. However, active throughout May and June are several showers whose radiants are only above the horizon during daylight hours (although in a few cases, some activity may be detectable late in the night by observers in tropical latitudes). Consequently observation of these showers is limited to radio methods. ZHR and radiant information is generally poorly known. The most active of these showers appear to be the May Arietids (max May 16), the Omicron Cetids (max May 20), the Arietids (max Jun 7), The Zeta Perseids (max Jun 9) and the Beta Taurids (max Jun 28).
June Bootids max Jun 23-24?This shower produced an unexpected outburst in 1998, with a broad peak during June 27-28. Another outburst was seen on 2004 June 23. Although several outbursts from this shower were seen in the early 20th century, these latest outbursts were unexpected as the Earth now passes some distance from the orbit of the particles which produced the earlier outbursts. The parent comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke was at perihelion on 2008 Sep 26, but there is no evidence that recent outbursts have been related to the position of the comet. It is worthwhile monitoring this shower's activity however in case further outbursts occur. There is some uncertainty as to the current location of the shower radiant, with recent reports merely describing the activity as originating from "northern Bootes".
In 2015, the Moon is at First Quarter on June 24 and so moonlight will only be a minor issue. All-night twilight will be more of a problem for observers at more northerly latitudes
July Minor ShowersNight-time sporadic activity picks up in July.
Older meteor shower lists sometimes included minor showers such as the Alpha Cygnids (active throughout the month and into early August, radiant 21h00m, +48) and the Lacertids (active later in the month, radiant 22h05m, +37). Neither shower seemed to have any clearly defined maxima and it is possible/likely that the meteors assigned to these showers were merely chance lining-ups of sporadic meteors with their "radiants". Indeed, neither shower is listed in the IMO's current working list of meteor showers
New Moon in 2015 occurs on July 16, with Full Moon occurring on July 31.
Aquarid-Capricornid complex / Summer Antihelion SourceChart. This group of showers includes the Delta Aquarids-S (max July 29), the Alpha Capricornids (max Aug 1), the Delta Aquarids-N (max Aug 5-9) and the Iota Aquarids-S (max Aug 6-7). Other than for the Delta Aquarids-S, the peak ZHRs are all below 10 per hour. The Alpha Capricornids have been noted for producing a number of slow moving flaring fireballs. Rather confusingly some sources refer to the Alpha Capricornids as the Capricornids, whilst others use the term Capricornids to describe a minor shower peaking around July 25 !
The proximity of the radiants to each other, together with their motion from night to night, means that visual observers must take great care to distinguish between the individual showers. For this reason, the above showers, with the exception of the Delta Aquarid-S and Alpha Capricornids, are often now merely grouped together as part of the "Summer Antihelion Source".
With Full Moon in 2015 occurring on July 31, moonlight will be a serious problem this year
Perseids max Aug 13d 07h UTChart.
Despite not producing peak rates as high as those of the Geminids, the Perseid meteor shower remains the favourite for most observers. This is because, in addition to being rich in bright and trained meteors, it also occurs during summer in the northern hemisphere as opposed to the cold nights of December for the Geminids.
Perseid activity can be seen from the last ten days of July through to the third week of August. The highest observed rates on any given night are likely to be seen when the radiant is highest in the sky late in the night. In some years, when the Earth encounters dust trails from old returns of the parent comet, there can be more than one Perseid peak. However, there are no predictions for additional Perseid peaks in 2015.
For UK based observers, the best observed rates are likely to be seen late in the night of Aug 12-13 (Wed-Thu), although good rates should also be seen during Aug 11-12 and to a lesser extent during Aug 13-14.
With Full Moon in 2015 occurring on July 31 and Last Quarter occurring on Aug 7, observations of the early Perseids in late July and in the first week of August will be hindered by moonlight. However, by the night of Perseid maximum, the Moon will be a thin crescent, not rising until the morning twilight. Hence moonlight will not be an issue during any of the three nights listed above.
August Minor Showers
Sporadic activity is quite high in August and numerous minor showers have been reported as being active. Many of them are probably spurious, with some of their supposed members being misidentified Perseids and late members of the Aquarid/Capricornid complex.
The more reliable showers include the Alpha Aurigids, which reach maximum late in the month (radiant RA 04h56m , Dec +43), and the Kappa Cygnids which reach maximum on Aug 18 (radiant 19h05m, +59) and often produce fireballs. Some sources also list an Iota Aquarid-N maximum on Aug 20 and a second Kappa Cygnid maximum on Aug 26.
New Moon in 2015 occurs on Aug 14 and Full Moon is on Aug 29. Hence moonlight will not affect the early Kappa Cygnid peak but will be a problem for the Alpha Aurigids.
Minor Showers in September / early Autumn Antihelion Source
Sporadic activity is also high in September and, again, numerous minor showers have been reported, although not as many as for August, probably because less observers are usually active. Be aware that in many cases the names allocated to these minor showers varies from one source to the next! The more reliable minor showers include the Alpha Aurigids (continuing from August), the Beta Cassiopeids (max Sep 1-6, radiant 00h05m, +63), the September (Epsilon) Perseids (max Sep 9, radiant 03h15m, +40) and the Piscids (max Sep 8-9, radiant 00h36m, +07 ; max Sep 21, radiant 00h24m, +00). More recent sources usually include the Piscids as part of the "Antihelion Source" (whereas later autumn ecliptic based radiants are allocated to the Taurid complex)
The September Perseids were in the news in 2013, with a stronger than usual display being recorded by imagers on Sep 9Full Moon in 2015 occurs on Aug 29 and Sep 28, with New Moon occurring on Sep 13. This is good news for observers wanting to check for a recurrence of the September Perseid outburst of 2013.
Draconids (Giacobinids) max Oct 8-921P/Giacobini-Zinner, the parent comet of this shower, passed through perihelion in Feb 2012. Observations of the Earth's closest passage to the comet's orbit at around Oct 8 2011 was seriously impacted by a bright Moon, but a short lived outburst to a ZHR of 250-300 was seen.
High Draconid rates were not expected in 2012. Some radio and radar observations did indicate however that a significant outburst occurred at around 16h-17h UT on Oct 8. The extent to which the shower produced a visual display is unclear due to the poor observing conditions for the visual observers who were active at that time. It was suggested that the visual ZHR may have exceeded 100, but this is very uncertain. Nothing exceptional was reported in 2013 or 2014 - but it would be worthwhile watching out for activity just in case.
The radiant, at RA 17h23m, Dec +57, lies near the head of Draco and is quite high in the sky for observers at northern latitudes at the start of the night. Draconid meteors are relatively slow moving.
Any activity during Oct 8-9 in 2015 would occur with the Moon being a waning crescent in the morning sky. Hence moonlight will not significantly affect observations this year.
Orionids max Oct 21-24Chart.
Although there is low level Orionid activity from the start of the month, Orionid activity only becomes obvious to visual observers from around Oct 14, lasting until the end of the month. A broad maximum occurs between Oct 21 and Oct 24 - however, even within this period there will probably be several peaks and troughs in the activity levels.
The Orionids, which are the result of the Earth's pre-perihelion encounter with the meteoroid stream of comet 1P/Halley, sometimes brings surprises such as the unusually high rates seen during the night of 2006 Oct 21-22. There were also enhanced rates in 2008 and 2009.
The radiant position at maximum is RA 06h24m , Dec +15 (on the border of Gemini and Orion) but actually appears quite diffuse since it consists of a number of sub-centres, as shown by the chart, whose combined activity can give the impression of the radiant remaining almost stationary for several days. The Orionid radiant does not rise until mid evening and is highest in the sky late in the night.
In 2015, the Moon will be at First Quarter on Oct 20 and reaches Full Moon on Oct 27. Hence, for meteor watches during the broad maximum, there will be some moonlight interference while the Orionid radiant is still fairly low in the sky, but the Moon will have set by the time that the Orionid radiant is highest late in the night. During the night of Oct 21-22, for example, the Moon will be near the Cap/Aqr border and, from the latitude of the UK, will set by around midnight local time.
Taurids broad max mid Oct-early NovChart. Taurid activity, which is related to the meteor stream of comet 2P/Encke, lasts throughout October and November. Some Taurid activity will be visible during the Orionid watches of October and the Leonid watches of November. The Taurid radiants are highest at around the middle of the night.
Although individual dates of maxima are often quoted for the northern and southern Taurids, the shower does not have sharp peaks in the same sense as seen in showers such as the Perseids or Leonids and it makes more sense to treat the shower as showing a broad maximum from mid October to early November. The southern radiant tends to be the more active during October, whilst the northern radiant is the more active during November. Observed rates are far from spectacular, but some observers report that the shower produces a good percentage of fireballs. Indeed a good number of bright Taurids were reported in 2005 and analyses by David Asher have supported the idea of a Taurid 'swarm' that the Earth encounters every few years. Results from 2008 showed some enhancement in Taurid rates, but few extra fireballs. The swarm was predicted to encounter the Earth again in late October 2012, but observations of possible activity were badly affected by moonlight.
With Full Moon occurring on Oct 27, Taurid observations in the later part of October will be hindered by moonlight. However, moonlight will be less of a problem in the first half of November.
Leonids max Nov 17-18
Chart. Leonid activity last from Nov 14-21 each year. The Leonid radiant rises in the late evening and is highest in the sky around dawn. The Leonids produced storm level activity for observers at favoured locations in 1999, 2001 and 2002.
It had been assumed that we had encountered all of the significant Leonid filaments. However, in 2008 the Earth passed close to a filament of material ejected at the 1466 return of the parent comet, resulting in rates being enhanced to around normal Perseid levels. A further close approach to this filament in 2009 resulted in similar rates during 20h-21h UT on Nov 17. Observing conditions were fairly unfavourable in 2010, but data reported did indicate a ZHR over 20 - and so well above the rates usually quoted for years between perihelion returns of the parent comet.
Moonlight circumstances are quite favourable in 2015, with First Quarter not occurring until Nov 19.
Geminids max Dec 14d 17h UTChart. Geminid activity is apparent to visual observers from Dec 7-16, with the best rates likely to be seen during the night of Dec 13-14 (Sun-Mon) and Dec 14-15 (Mon-Tue). Good Geminid rates should also be visible during the night of Dec 12-13 (Sat-Sun). The Geminids are the shower that produce the highest reliable rates year on year and only lose out in popularity to the Perseids due to the colder December nights. Results from recent years have shown the peak ZHR to be over 100 and to remain above 70 per hour for about 24 hours - and the shower's profile is evolving from year to year.
The Geminids are rich in bright meteors but, being associated with a rocky asteroid 3200 Phaethon rather than an icy comet, produce few trained meteors. There seems to be a tendency for fainter Geminid meteors to peak earlier than brighter meteors. The radiant is highest in the sky at about 02h local time and, for observers at northern temperate latitudes, is above the horizon all night.
Moonlight conditions are very good for the Geminids in 2015, with New Moon occurring on Dec 11. During the nights of Dec 13-14 and Dec 14-15, the Moon will only be a thin crescent, setting by mid evening
Ursids max Dec 22-23Ursid activity lasts from approx Dec 17-25. The Ursid radiant, at RA 14h28m, Dec +78, is circumpolar for most northern hemisphere observers and is highest in the sky late in the night. High rates were recorded from this shower in 1945, 1982 ,1986, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2014. It is suspected that other such peaks may have been missed due to lack of observations.
With Full Moon in 2015 occurring on Dec 25, moonlight will be a major issue on the night of Ursid maximum. However, there will be a moon-free spell of over an hour at the end of the night.
Quadrantids 2016 max Jan 04d 07h UTChart. The Quadrantid radiant, lying at Dec +50, in a rather bland area of the sky between Draco, Bootes and Ursa Major, is circumpolar for observers north of latitude 40 N. The radiant is at its lowest altitude at around 20h local time and is highest at the end of the night. Peak rates vary from year to year. The ZHR for the 2012 peak only seemed to reach around 80 whereas the 2009 peak was broader than usual with the ZHR being above 100 for nearly 12 hours. The maximum is usually rather narrow, with the predicted time for 2016 favouring observers in western Europe and the east of North America.
Moonlight will only be a minor problem for the 2016 Quadrantid peak. The Moon, near the Vir/Lib border, will be between Last Quarter and New Moon and will merely be a waning crescent rising in the later part of the night.
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