Two Meteor Showers Sparkle the Skies… Beginning Tonight!

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 35° 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 35° 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!

11 Replies to “Two Meteor Showers Sparkle the Skies… Beginning Tonight!”

  1. Articles like these do more harm than good in the long run: February is among the worst months of the year for meteor watching, and both showers mentioned have rates so low that even experienced meteor watchers don’t expect much from them – you’ll probably see more sporadic meteors than shower members.

    I recommend consulting the IMO Meteor Shower Calendar 2008 for suggestions on the real meteor highlights of the year: Before the Eta Aquarids fire up in two months or so, there is nothing to really crow about – especially when taking to a general audience.

  2. I agree that it’s not a prolific shower, Dave. However, there are many of us that like curiousities and poorly studied meteor showers always need good reporters. For those that appreciate studies, it’s nice to have a reminder and to encourage others to study as well. By learning when peak times occur, how many meteors are sighted, times, locations, etc. we’re more able to accurately access the originator of the meteoriod stream.

    For those of you who are working on your meteor shower observations for Astronomical Observing Lists, such as the AL’s Meteor Observer, all showers are worth watching!

  3. “… all showers are worth watching!” Actually someone should be out there, watching all the time because there are still many gaps in our knowledge regarding little-documented minor showers. But what was so bad about this article is its grossly misleading headline: “… Sparkle in the Skies”! How does that match the – correct – statement buried in the text of one meteor every 30 minutes?!

    This kind of hype (which I’ve known all too well but really didn’t expect from a site like UT) raises totally wrong expectations with those uninitiated to the field of visual meteor observering: They go out now, freeze themselves half to death and see a handful of meteors all night, at best – and are lost for visual meteor watching forever.

    Please do visual meteor astronomy a favor and don’t talk about it at all in general forums like this one between the Quads and the Etas – this time of year is simply not the right one to go for meteors, esp. as a novice …

  4. My apologies for mis-reading your name, Daniel.

    Of course, it’s everyone’s right to disagree. Many thought I was totally cracked for standing outside in -13.3C weather to watch the lunar eclipse… But I still had fun. If I have clear skies for the Delta Leonids? I also intend on watching. Not all readers of UT are novice. 😉

    When writing an observing notice, I do so to offer information. Should someone happen to spot a meteor (and they sure do!) and be able to trace it back to its origin as belonging to a particular shower? Then that’s a very good thing… It wasn’t intended as hyperbole – it was intended to encourage a reader to further investigate the headline.

    If you feel that the words “Sparkle the Skies” are misleading? Then I am sorry you feel that way. In my somewhat romantic view of the Cosmos, I just happen to have the personal opinion that meteors sparkle. If these meteor showers were occuring during a gibbous or full Moon time, I wouldn’t even have suggested looking. However, the skies will be fairly dark for a great portion of the evening and that means a better than average chance of spotting one and UT is probably one of the few places on the internet where you’ll find the information on what you saw. Not everyone lives in a cold climate either!

    I suggest readers follow their own heart… If you’re not particularly interested in a low rate meteor shower? No one is forcing you to go outside. If you should happen to spot one while observing Saturn? Then you’re in luck!

    And I’ll be right out there with you…

  5. Tammy,
    I find your writing style very refreshing. Sorry, I don’t agree with Daniel’s critical, pessimistic view. Reminders of ANY interesting astronomical events are helpful and encouraging novice and more advanced observers to “get out under the stars” whenever possible is a good thing.

    About the only thing I discourage novices from trying is observing with a “dime store” telescope.

    Keep up the good work.


  6. Thanks for the article. If I’m out there tonight (and I will be if the weather co-operates) and see a meteor, at least I’ll be aware of which stream it belongs to.

    Articles like these are good for serious amateurs. Tammy does a great job with her writing. I far prefer stuff like this than being at a star party with a negative, pessimistic participant.

  7. I certainly appreciate the kinds comments… and don’t be too hard on Daniel. Apparently he also runs an astronomy blog and was on the lookout for story ideas.

    Unfortunately, I’m socked in with a winter storm at the moment… But I did catch two very nice meteor scatter signals in a period of a little more than an hour by radio. Of course, without visual confirmation, I can’t say if it was random or belonged to a specific stream. However, I’d be terribly interested to know if others spot a higher rate of activity. I’m curious if the close approach of 4450 Pan had any impact on the fall rate!

    Keep rockin’ the night…

  8. Tammy’s right.

    Twice now this week while driving home from work at night I’ve witnessed very bright, white trails followed by what looked like an explosion with sparkles at the end. The one tonight looked close, like a firework, but who would be shooting off fireworks in the middle of winter? Besides, fireworks go up, not down. Finally, the two sitings were 20 miles apart – not likely for a fireworker.

    This is what brought me searching for more info on meteor showers at this time of year. At first I was disappointed because there were none listed, until I dug deeper and found the gamma normids, which led me to this site.

    Could these two sitings – meteors I guess – be from this 4450 Pan? I’ve seen a lot of falling stars, but never this bright or dramatic, and twice in one week!?

    By the way, on both nights I was driving almost due west in downstate NY – 17B between Monticello and Callicoon – if you know where that is. I have no idea where Leo is, but the stars are BEAUTIFUL tonight!

    Feel free to email me since I don’t know if I’ll be back on this site soon – [email protected].


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