Meteor showers for 2016

Silvia Choi is an astronomy guide at Sydney Observatory and avid meteor chaser!
Below she discuss upcoming meteor showers for 2016.

You may have heard about the Geminids meteor shower that appeared in the night sky in December 2015. If you were like me and missed out, never fear – there is always a chance of observing these beauties this year!

Despite being known as ‘shooting stars’, meteors are in fact space debris – a rocky or metallic body of sizes ranging between a grain of sand to a boulder. When a meteor enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it heats up due to the air resistance on the meteor. This causes the meteor and the air around it to glow, displaying a bright streak in the sky. The glow lasts only for a short amount of time, with most meteors disintegrating while passing through Earth’s atmosphere.

Meteor showers usually occur when a comet passes close to the Sun and produces a debris trail which is strewn around the comet’s orbit. Every time Earth passes through this region of the comet’s orbit it experiences a meteor shower. The brightness and frequency of the meteors depends on how dense the debris trail is; how deeply into the trail the Earth passes; and whether the Earth passes through more than one trail. The meteors in each shower all move on a parallel path at the same velocity, so from our point of view they seem to radiate from a single point, called a radiant, in the sky. Some meteor showers occur at the same time every year and by convention, these are named after the constellation in which the radiant is located.

Below is the list of regular meteor showers that can be viewed in Sydney.
The best time for viewing any meteor shower is after midnight and they are best seen under dark skies, away from city lights.

Lyrids, 22nd April between midnight and 5am
eta-Aquariids, 5th May between 2am and 6am
Southern delta-Aquariids, late July to early August (maximum 28th – 30th July, an hour or two before dawn)
Orionids, 21st October between 1am and 5am
Leonids, 18th November between 3am and 5am
Geminids, 14th December between 11pm and 5am

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4 responses to “Meteor showers for 2016

  • After some additional background searching, it appears my assumption with the Phoenicids associated with Halley’s Comet may be incorrect. Much of my information was based on J. Wood’s work made by the Western Australia Meteor Section during the 1970s-1980s, which does appears in a table containing about 120 southern meteor showers stating Halley’s as being the possible progenitor of the shower. I then did a wider literature search and come across an article in the Astrophysical Journal entitled “Meteor showers from the debris of broken comet D/1819 W1 (Blanpain), 2003 WY25 and the Phoenicids” whose pdf file is here.[[1].]

    Really fascinating is the discussion on pg.1287-88 on the history of this meteor shower – especially the strong Australia-New Zealand connection. Another discussion on the history of the Phoenicids is here.[2]. (Oddly the older reference of the association with Halley’s has been conveniently been dropped everywhere.)

    Although fairly technical, it is surprisingly readable without much background knowledge reuired. Although it shows my ‘theory’ is now likely clearly off the mark, it shows some of the underlying principles into periodic / sporadic outbursts of meteoric activity – highlight generally in the SO introductory article.

    Here they say pg.1288; “Surprisingly, the shower is expected to return in the fall of 2005, but conditions are much less favorable than in 1956. Other years in which some Phoenicid activity may be expected are 2019, 2034, 2039, and 2044, all at much lower rates than in 1956.”

    Still, it shows that observing meteor showers is a very worthwhile endeavor, which even the simplest of amateurs can openly help contribute towards some real astronomical science. Still, I’ll make sure to look for any meteor during early December 2016 – and certainly during December 2019.

  • Thanks for this, Sylvia and Mel – I’ve put the dates in my diary and hope 2016 is my year to finally see a meteor shower!

  • Interesting article here. However, I have a possible theory the the so-called shower known as the Phoenicids, which peaks around December 6. This meteor shower is quite unpredictable in the numbers observed per hour – usually stated as around five per hour. It is a well placed radiant, being near Achernar, which from our latitude is wonderfully placed for most of the night.

    The meteor stream that generates the radiant is based on the periodic Halley’s Comet, which last appeared during 1986. Whist meteor studies are still little understood, there is an old theory, the meteors resonate before and after the comet’s orbit – very much like the Trojan asteroids orbiting Jupiter and some of the other outer planets.

    Interestingly on 5th December 1956, the Phoenicids display about 100-150 per hour. Now if the old held theories are true, then the preceding encounter before Halley’s Comet is 5th February 1986- 5th December 1956 or 30.8 years, so that the following encounter should be 1986+30.8 years or 2016.8 – being this year!!

    Notably, Halley’s comet has a period of 75.31589 years, with 30.8 years being +/-40.8% of this period. Theoretically, the meteor stream should be almost exactly +/-60 degrees (ahead or behind) – being the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points or about 12.6 years. The discrepancy is likely due to significant perturbations from the other planets, which are magnified with Halley’s Comet’s great eccentricity of 0.962 – crossing the orbits of many planets in the Solar System.

    So while there is certainty with your given meteor streams, there are others which are much more periodic, and can display great events I.e. The Leonids, which present many meteor per hour once every 33-years.

    I could likely be quite wrong with my Phoenicids predict , the theory remains plausible. It might turn to be as good as 1956. It might not. But as with many things in astronomy, there remains much to what we don’t yet quite understand. Observations do help assist solving so mysteries that remain – which in this case, is easy to prove or disprove by simply looking at the sky for 10-20 minutes. Either way, it is a great excuse to delve into the southern celestial realm.

    See also http://rasnz.org.nz/in-the-sky/meteor-showers for southern meteor showers during 2106 as presented by the RASNZ.

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