This year's episode of the grand meteor shower the Leonids will peak on Monday morning before dawn. The meteors are bits of debris dropping off the comet Tempel-Tuttle that intersects Earth's orbit every November. Unfortunately, it may be tough to see many shooting stars because activity this year will be low and the waning gibbous moon will shine brightly. Still, it's always fun and meditative to watch the skies. From EarthSky:
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In 2019, no matter where you are on Earth – and no matter when you watch, on the morning of the peak itself, or on the morning leading up to the peak – the best hours of the night for meteor-watching will be hindered by the bright moon. Those hours are between midnight and dawn, when Earth’s forward motion through space has carried your part of Earth head-on into the meteor stream.
Also in 2019, there’s really no way to avoid the moon. You’ll have to find a way to work around it. Try observing in a shadow of a large structure (like a barn), or in a mountain shadow. Just try to keep the moon out of view. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for a period, say, 15 minutes to half an hour. Just wait and watch, don’t expect too much, and see what you see.
We hear lots of reports from people who see meteors from yards, decks, streets and especially highways in and around cities. But the best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country.
The Perseid meteor shower peaked last night (8/13) but you'll still be able to spot them streaking across the sky through August 24. The meteors are particles left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. From NASA's Perseids page:
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If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up! You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseids – just your eyes. (Note that telescopes or binoculars are not recommended.) Meteors can generally be seen all over the sky so don’t worry about looking in any particular direction.
While observing this month, not all of the meteors you’ll see belong to the Perseid meteor shower. Some are sporadic background meteors. And some are from other weaker showers also active right now, including the Alpha Capricornids, the Southern Delta Aquariids, and the Kappa Cygnids. How can you tell if you’ve seen a Perseid? If you see a meteor try to trace it backwards. If you end up in the constellation Perseus, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Perseid. If finding constellations isn’t your forte, then note that Perseids are some of the fastest meteors you’ll see!
Pro tip: Remember to let your eyes become adjusted to the dark (it takes about 30 minutes) – you’ll see more meteors that way. Try to stay off of your phone too, as looking at devices with bright screens will negatively affect your night vision and hence reduce the number of meteors you see!
Amateur astrophotographer Ethan Chappel was using his telescope to look for Perseid meteors on Wednesday night when he happened to capture an image of something very large slamming into Jupiter. It was most likely a massive meteor. From Sky and Telescope:
After running the camera data through a program designed to alert the user to just such transient events, Chappel spotted a flash of light in the planet's South Equatorial Belt (SEB). It expanded from a pinpoint to a small dot before fading away — telltale signs of a possible impact based on previous events observed at Jupiter....
If confirmed this would be the 7th recorded impact at the solar system's biggest planet since July 1994, when 21 fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet in succession to create a rosary of dark impact boils visible in amateur telescopes.
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Over the weekend, Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey spotted a near-earth asteroid just a few hours before its impact trajectory took it right into our atmosphere. Luckily, it burned up before impact. Read the rest
“I went to turn and I noticed a ball of flame coming at an angle,” Danny McEwen Jr. told the Detroit News. "...It just blew up into a bunch of sparks. I didn’t even know what to think. It was kind of odd how orange the sky was behind me and this blaze of flame out of nowhere.”
A brilliant meteor tore through Earth's atmosphere around 8pm on Tuesday night over southeastern Michigan. The United States Geological Survey measured the rumble as equivalent to a magnitude 2.0 earthquake.
From the Washington Post:
(NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office lead Bill) Cooke said the fireball was caused by a small asteroid about one to two yards in diameter, moving at 28,000 mph. When it entered into the atmosphere, he said, it heated up and began to melt away, producing the bright light that people saw...
In the case of the Michigan meteoroid, NASA’s Cooke said, “there are probably meteorites on the ground in southeast Michigan right now. . . . I’m sure the meteorite hunters will be out in force.”
More at the Detroit News: "Hunt on for spec of space rock that shook Michigan"
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A meteor lit up the southeastern Michigan sky at 8:08 pm last night, and here is one of the dashcams that caught it.
According to the Washington Post:
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“It was definitely a meteor,” Bill Cooke, lead for NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Cooke said the fireball was caused by a small asteroid about one to two yards in diameter, moving at 28,000 mph. When it entered into the atmosphere, he said, it heated up and began to melt away, producing the bright light that people saw.
The Perseid meteor shower originates from the Swift-Tuttle comet, and is visible now through until August 24, 2016. The show is seen viewed from a northeastern direction in the northern hemisphere. Read the rest
Asteroids: Yet more evidence that (as a society) we aren't very good at prioritizing preventative measures against long-term risks. Read the rest
Piecing together what exploded in the skies over Russia, using infrasound sensors operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization
How to use the power of meteors to send radio signals farther.
The Geminids Meteor shower is coming! Space reporter Miles O'Brien speaks with AtronomyNow.com's night sky consultant, Mark Armstrong.
The Geminids are one of the big deal meteor showers that happen every year. In fact, they're regarded as one of the most reliable and impressive. They're also a little strange.
Most meteor showers happen when Earth and a comet cross paths, slingling rocks, dust, and debris from the comet's tail into our atmosphere. The sudden influx of shooting starts that results is a highly noticeable event and humans have been recording them for millennia.
The Geminids are different. They sort of just appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, back in 1862. And it wasn't until the 1980s that scientists were finally able to identify the thing that was producing them. At which point, ish got weirder.
That's because the object, known as 3200 Phaethon, is really confusing. It doesn't seem to be a comet. At least, not a normal, healthy, functioning comet. It doesn't even have a tail. In fact, at this point most scientists think it's probably an asteroid, which then leads to still-yet-unexplained question of where all the meteors come from. Asteroids, after all, do not typically accumulate tails of small rocks. So far, the best guess has to do with 3200 Phaethon's orbit, which over the course of about a year and a half takes it closer to the Sun than Mercury and then back out further from the Sun than Mars. Those wild temperature swings might lead to the asteroid cracking and throwing off dust and debris, which then becomes meteors. But, as a NASA info page pointed out in 2010, that explanation doesn't totally cut it. Read the rest
Bad news for U.S.-based astronomy buffs. You probably won't get a good look at the Perseid meteor shower happening Friday night. The Moon (you know, the Moon) will be getting all up in your business. Some particularly bright meteors might still be visible, however. Read the rest
(Photo, via Wikipedia: "Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America in the night of November 12./13., 1833. Source, E. WeiÃŸ: "Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt"; Published 1888)
The Earth is hurtling through mostly empty space at nearly 70,000 mph. But space is only mostly empty. Throughout the solar system is debris left behind by comets, colliding asteroids, and even dust from interstellar space. When the Earth hits these things - at 70,000 mph - it puts on a nice show.
You can see the show any time of the year. Just find a dark moonless sky and stare up for a while. You'll eventually see the quick streak of a shooting star. That "shooting star" was what happens when one of these tiny dust-sized pieces of debris gets in the way of the earth. It burns high in the atmosphere. Very very occasionally the earth will run into an even larger piece of debris.
The best I ever saw in my life was when I was sitting on a beach in Hawaii and noticed a bright light behind me, turned around, and saw a huge bolide split multiple times in the air before disappearing behind a volcano behind me.
These days they are often caught by security cameras or by whoever happens to have a video camera in their hand at the time.
Some parts of the solar system are dirtier than others, and right now the Earth is plowing through one of the dirtier ones. We are plowing right through the orbit of a former comet, and that orbit is full of dust and small rocks sputtered out by the comet over centuries. Read the rest