Look Up! Your Guide To Some Of The Best Meteor Showers For 2017

Photo Credit: Jeff Smallwood via Flickr

The Conversation

Guest Author Jonti Horner, University of Southern Queensland and Tanya Hill, Museum Victoria

After a disappointing 2016, when most of the annual major meteor showers were washed out by moonlight, 2017 looks far more promising.

Of the big three, the Quadrantids in January and Geminids in December are both visible in dark, moonless skies. Sadly, the Perseids in August will again be badly obscured by a waning gibbous Moon, but they are always worth watching.

Here we detail the predicted meteoric highlights for the coming year for the northern (N) and southern (S) hemispheres, and those visible for both (N/S).

New this year, for each shower we also give the maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR): the maximum number of meteors per hour that could be seen, given absolutely ideal conditions.

The rates you actually observe will be lower than this value. The higher a shower’s radiant in the sky, and the darker the conditions, the closer the observed rates will get to the ZHR.

For this reason, if you want to see the best of a meteor shower, try to find a good, dark site (far from streetlights), and give your eyes at least half an hour to adjust to the darkness.

For each shower, the time of forecast maximum is given in Universal Time (UT), with conversions to local time for certain regions where the shower could be observed. For other regions simply convert from UT into your local timezone.

The parent is the comet or asteroid responsible for the debris through which the Earth passes each year that’s the cause of the annual meteor shower.

Quadrantids (N)

Active: December 28, 2016 – January 12, 2017

Forecast Maximum: January 3, 2pm UT = January 3, 6am PST (West Coast, US) = January 3, 11pm JST (Japan)

ZHR: ~120

Parent: Comet 96P/Machholz / Asteroid 2003 EH1

The Quadrantids get the new year off to a meteoric start. At their peak they can be spectacular, with rates often exceeding 100 meteors per hour.

For locations north of 40 degrees north, the shower’s radiant (the point on the sky from which the meteors appear) is circumpolar, which means it is always above the horizon.

The result? Quadrantid meteors can be seen throughout the hours of darkness. The best viewing is after midnight, local time, as the radiant climbs high into the morning sky.

The Quadrantids come from the northern part of the northern hemisphere’s sky, with their radiant rising higher in the sky during the early hours of morning. Museums Victoria/Stellarium, Author provided

For most of the shower’s fortnight of activity, only one or two meteors per hour might be seen. For that reason, the Quadrantids are often overlooked, but at their best, they are well worth the effort of setting an early morning alarm on a cold winter’s night.

The forecast maximum this year favours locations in the western part of North America and in far East Asia. Observers north of the Arctic Circle have the privilege of being able to watch the shower continuously, if they can brave the winter cold.

Story continues with April sightings on next page…

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