Several meteor showers combine to produce some of the best opportunities to see the celestial fireworks!
Summer is over (except on the calendar) and this year's Perseid Meteor shower is history. In Central Oregon, we were clouded out for the Perseids during the peak nights but we did see some spectacular random meteors from that shower.
Fall is here and some of the best meteor showers of the year are ahead of us (actually one is already occurring). We've seen a number of meteors and fireballs at the Observatory over the past week or so. Of course, in many cases, I was looking the wrong way when I heard the oohs and ahhs! These seemingly random meteors all come from Southern Taurids Meteor Shower, a cycle that began on September 7 and continues through mid-November. The Taurids' peak is October 7 and 8 although normally the maximum number at that time is about 5 meteors per hour. This meteor shower is rich in fireballs and worth checking out, if only for the fireball activity. Last Friday night (September 12) three were seen during our public program. This meteor shower is associated with the comet Enke.
Next up is a biggie! The Orionids Meteor Shower which are active from early October through November. The Orionids peak during the third week of October and 20 meteors per hour (or more, sometimes MANY more). In the early hours of 21 October, the listed "peak", there will be no full moon to interfere with viewing and it should be no trouble seeing quite a number of meteors and predictions are that this year there should be quite a display. The Orionids come from dust from Halley's Comet. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.
Early in November, part 2 of the Taurids occurs to entertain us. The Northern Taurids Meteor Shower. Like its southern brother, this is a long term meteor shower that chiefly is known for the number of fireballs it produces. Some of them are flamboyant and all are fantastic. The Northern Taurids occur from about October 30 to November 30 and like the Southern Taurids, appear to radiate from the constellation Taurus.
The Leonid Meteor Shower is active from November 5 to November 30. The peak is around November 16 and 17. In 2001, the Leonids produced a meteor storm visible to all of us in Central Oregon with sightings in excess of 100 meteors per hour! Unfortunately, the peak of this meteor shower is only expected to produce about 20 meteors per hour this year. The Leonids are a result of multiple passages of Comet Tuttle and the radiant appears to be the constellation Leo.
The Geminids Meteor Shower is generally the strongest of all the meteor showers of the year. The shower is visible through the first half of December and sometimes through the third week of the month. Predictions for 2014 show that 120 PLUS meteors per hour may be seen during the peak evening of December 14. The Geminids are the result of pieces of the comet 3200 Phaeton and the radiant is Gemini. With a near moonless sky, this just might be quite a show!
Finally, in 2014 the Ursids Meteor Shower. The Ursids meteor shower's peak coincided with the Winter Solstice in 2014. What a better way to celebrate winter's arrival with a display of celestial fireworks. Predicted are as many as 10 meteors per hour in a NEw Moon sky. The Ursids appear to radiate from Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper.
As always, the best way to view meteors in the night sky is in a dark sky location. Dress warmly and in layers. A telescope or binocular is not needed for most of the brighter "shooting stars". Of course, cooperating weather is always a plus! With some luck, we'll be treated to some great shows this fall.