Are you ready for more meteor showers? Thanks to the after midnight rise of the Moon, many of us might have the clear skies to enjoy the Delta Leonid and Gamma Normid Meteor showers which peak around this date. While the activity isn’t dramatic for either one, these two rare meteor showers are a great time for observers to catch a shooting star!
For SkyWatchers who live in a dark area, be on the lookout for what is probably an ancient stream belonging to the Virginids. According to the International Meteor Organization (IMO) the “Northern hemisphere sites have a distinct advantage for covering this stream, especially this year as the waning gibbous Moon will rise around or after midnight at the peak for sites north of 35Â° N latitude. Southern hemisphere watchers should not ignore the stream, as they are better-placed to note many of the other Virginid radiants, but with moonrise as early as 22h 30m at 35Â° S latitude on February 25, conditions are not ideal.”
To take advantage of this opportunity, keep an eye on the constellation of Leo where meteors will seem to originate around mid-way in the Lion’s back. This is good news since the constellation itself will be visible nearly all night! The fall rates are slow – one about every 30 minutes – but with nearby Saturn to liven up the show, it’s a great time to catch a Delta Leonid telescopically. For the most part, the meteors you spot will be faint and blue. Using binoculars in this circumstance is definitely helpful as you’ll be able to see the trail far longer.
For the Southern Hemisphere, keep an eye out for the Gamma Normids, too! While they are similar to sporadic meteors, they are known to sometimes make a sharp jump in fall rate on either side of their peak time. IMO suggests: “Post-midnight watching yields best results, when the radiant is rising to a reasonable elevation from southern hemisphere sites. First quarter Moon on March 13 is thus excellent news, as it will set before midnight.” Again, the hourly rate is slow, but look for one about every 20 minutes. (Sorry, Northern Hemisphere… We can’t see Norma.) Shower members are swift with the brightest meteors often having a yellow color.
Neither the Delta Leonids, nor the Gamma Normids will be a spectacular show… But don’t despair if you don’t have clear skies tonight. Both meteor showers will be active until mid-March. The fun part is spotting one and understanding where it originated! While no definitive information can be found on the Gamma Normids, the Delta Leonids are thought to possibly be related to the minor planet 1987 SY – also known as asteroid 4450 Pan. The 1.6 km wide Apollo asteroid was discovered on September 25, 1987, by Caroline Shoemaker at the Palomar observatory and just made a flyby of the Earth on February 19, 2008, at a distance of 15.9 lunar distances (0.0408 AU). Perhaps we’ll be lucky and it will have left a bit more visible debris for us to enjoy!