Thereâ€™s another two odd meteor showers about to happen. Itâ€™s just after Full Moon. Why bother to take a look at the night sky when chances are poor of seeing a meteor? The reason is clear and the cause is confirmation.
On Saturday, March 22, two meteor showers will grace the moonlit evening sky. We’ll start first with the Camelopardalids. These have no definite peak, and a screaming fall rate of only one per hour. They do have one claim to fame however – these are the slowest meteors known – arriving at a speed of only 7 kilometers per second. Any bright streaks you might see belonging to the Camelopardalids will appear to emanate from the north.
Far more interesting will be to watch for the peak of the March Geminids. These were first discovered and recorded in 1973, then confirmed in 1975. With a much improved fall rate of about 40 per hour, these slightly faster meteors will greatly increase your chance of spotting a shooting star. Like the Camelopardalids, the March Geminds are slower than average and will seem to emanate from directly overhead at skydark. But don’t forget to start early before the Moon rises. The moonlight alone will reduce the number of meteors you see by a factor of about 10. The lunar influence causes fewer disturbances if it’s only a few degrees above the horizon, so you have a brief window of opportunity to study this particular stream.
You can make an important contribution by observing when possible. Since the shower wasn’t reported until 1973 and confirmed by a high rate of activity 2 years later, scientists aren’t really sure if the Earth had passed through that particular particle stream until that time. By observing and reporting, even to sources like Universe Today, you are providing an invaluable internet record to help determine if the stream is genuine. It the March Geminids truly are a viable annual shower, this trail might lead to an undiscovered comet.
If you wish to report your findings elsewhere, please visit the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) and locate the meteor observing tab. In these pages you will also find links to information from the North American Meteor Network (NAMN), and other things to assist you like charts to understand the meteor’s magnitude, the limiting magnitude of your location, and details for recording what you see and how to fill out an observation report. While it’s certainly true you may see absolutely nothing during an hour of observing at skydark, negative observations are also important. This helps to establish if the March Geminids should be considered an annual shower or not. You may also just happen to step outside at the right time and see a flurry of activity as well. Just remember…
When opportunity knocks, you’ve got to be there to open the door!
Tammy was a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter’s Gold Status.
(Tammy passed away in early 2015… she will be missed)