Awake during the wee hours of the morning? Try heading outdoors for awhile to watch for the “guess-timated” peak of the Coma Berenicid meteor shower on the morning of January 19. It might not be the most prolific meteor shower on record and this might not be the perfect peak, but this year’s presence is making headlines!
Not normally known for kicking up a fuss, the Coma Berenicid meteor shower is active from December 8 to January 23. At best, it might throw a handful of bright meteors per hour, but this year’s activity has already made a stir to eyewitnesses in the UK. According to Associated Content Press, here’s what observer’s have reported:
Graham Riley said, “We were out in Brigsteer, Cumbria, UK to watch fireworks at midnight New Years Eve . Brigsteer has no street lighting myself and my wife witnessed a huge bright yellow square with four triangular yellow flashes emitting from the main body… it traveled slowly with no sound from NE to SW and burnt out over the Sea— fantastic sight!” Posted on 01/01/2010 at 2:01:10 PM.
Martin Howie said, “My brother-in-law went out to walk the dogs just after the New Year Bells, and came running back in to call me out to see if I could rationally explain what he’d seen over Rosyth, in Fife, Scotland. Suffice to say, I was at a loss for words, seeing 20-25 orange balls streaking across the sky. The whole family came outside, and a few neighbours came to see what the commotion was. My wife saw one meteor break up into 3 parts and fizzle out. I don’t think any of us will be forgetting this New Year anytime soon. Curious as to the lack of TV coverage or Internet postings thus far also.” Posted on 01/01/2010 at 3:01:08 PM
David Pulman, a pilot who has given earlier eyewitness accounts of this spectacular celestial event, said, “My wife has been in a bit of a panic ever since as she fears there is some sort of official news black out! They were very easily visible— no need for telescope or binoculars. They must have been pretty big too in order that we could see them so clearly— and obviously fire balls— to the point of being able to see them (mostly) burn up in the atmosphere.”
Samantha Istead said, “…I feel so lucky because on Christmas night, I saw two [meteors] on their own at 10.39pm in the UK/Sussex. They were massive, lasting about 6-7mins, but scary at the same time.,. and tonight 1st Jan at 12:07am, I saw about 8/9. They were not difficult to spot. I dragged my neighbour out. He was totally freaked by it, Then halfway through one dropped down and we saw smoke fizzle from it, So amazing. It went on for about 10/15mins.”
Lynn, Keith and Emma Aston in Rothertham, South Yorkshire, England said, “Wow what a night! [We] went upstairs to watch the fireworks at midnight New Year’s Eve only to see meteors flying across the sky and burning out into the atmosphere. Must have seen at least 50. Was amazing but scary at the same time. 4 of them were huge and you could see the flames. Never in my life have I experienced what I saw last night and early morning.”
Can you count on a similar experience just by watching tomorrow morning? Not hardly. Meteor showers are fickle things and a rogue stream relies more on being in the right place at the right time. However, you can even the odds out a bit by watching the general area around the constellation of Coma Berenices. The ecliptic plane is visible the world over, and activity will seem to come from a region just east of Leo. The time to begin is several hours after local midnight and best observations will probably occur when the radiant is highest just before dawn.
Traditionally, the Coma Berenicid activity is weak, with an average fall rate of about 7 per hour, it still warrants study. Noted first around 50 years ago, the stream was connected to another minor shower in the same orbit, the December Leo Minorids . Meteoroid streams are traditionally by-products of comets, but in this case the comet had not been confirmed! Observed in 1912 by Australian amateur astronomer B. Lowe, it was officially designated as 1913 I and was only seen four times before being lost to the sunrise. Using Lowe’s observations, independent researchers computed the comet’s orbit, but it was forgotten until Fred Whipple made the association between his photographic studies and the enigmatic comet. By observing the annual shower, Whipple placed the orbital period of Comet Lowe at 75 years, with the two major streams occurring about 27 and 157 years apart. Due to the uneven dispersion of material, it may be another decade before we see some real activity and the time just might be now! Because when opportunity knocks?
Ya’ gotta’ be there to open the door…