Australian Meteor Shower Guide
Key Meteor Showers for Australian sky-watchers.
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The above image is a series of overlayed meteor photographs. It shows the total combined meteor trails from the Perseids Meteor Shower on the 12th August 2013. On this particular night the peak meteor rate was about 1 meteor ever 8 seconds, which occurred about 1 hour before dawn.
Meteor Shower Viewing Information
A meteor shower may occur when the Earth passes near the orbital path of a comet or an asteroid cluster. When the Earth intercepts a debris stream, individual particles may travel through the earth's atmosphere. Large ram pressure forces heat particles and the surrounding atmosphere and a visible meteor is seen. Meteors are typically seen around 100 km altitude with few particles/meteoroids surviving below 80 km. Below some of the better annual meteor showers.
Month, Radiant, Duration & Maximum (peak).
Lyrids – April 16 – 25, peaks around April 22nd, 23rd. The Lyrids radiant is close to the Lyra constellation, and rises just after midnight in the southern hemisphere and moves across the northern sky. The Lyrids meteor shower is best viewed after midnight on 22 April or well before sunrise on 23 April. Point your feet towards the northern sky and look about 45 degrees above the horizon. This shower is caused by debris from Comet Thatcher. This shower can produce spectacular meteors.
η - Aquarids – 21 Apr – 12 May: Maximum peak of meteors at around midnight, 5/6 May. Can produce some very bright meteors and occasional bolides. This is the 1st annual meteor shower caused by debris from Halley's Comet.
Perseids - 17 July - August 24 with peak viewing on 13 August. Usually not as prominent in the southern lattitudes but can still produce excellent meteors. Best viewed in the early morning around 3am looking towards the northern horizon.
Orionids – 2 Oct – 7 Nov 21 Although the traditional Orionids maximum occurs on 21 October, an earlier sub-maximum is possible around 17-18 October, when observing conditions are particularly favourable. The radiant rises around midnight in Australia in the east-north-eastern skies between 17 and 21 October. Well worth staying up late on 17, 18 and 21 October. Can produce some very bright meteors. Best to lie with feet to the north and look well above the horizon. This is the 2nd annual meteor shower caused by Halley's Comet.
Southern Taurids: October 1- November 25, with extended peak 4-9th Nov and main peak ~Nov.5th. Slow meteors with up to 6-7 per hr Zenith Hourly Rate around maximum, often with bright meteors with very bright heads and long glowing trains. The Radiant is near the Pleiades asterism in Taurus, which rises in the NE after 9PM in Eastern Australia. Point your feet towards the NE sky and look above the horizon. This shower is caused by debris from Comet Encke.
Leonids: Nov10 – 23. In Australia the radiant rises soon after midnight in the north-eastern night sky. Peak occurs around 17/18th . This historic meteor shower is responsible for several meteor storms with hundreds of meteors, and has the fastest meteors at 71 km/s. This shower is caused by debris from Comet Temple–Tuttle.
Geminids: Dec 7– 17. The radiant appears around local midnight in the southern-hemisphere with a waxing crescent moon setting just before midnight in the east and well before midnight in the west. The best time for viewing in Australia is from 11pm - 1am, 14/15 December. Lie with your feet to the north-east and centre your gaze between 45 degrees above the horizon and straight up. Look for the twin stars of Gemini –Castor and Pollux, which is where the radiant of this meteor shower lies. Up to 150 meteors can be seen over ~3 hrs in good years, and this is one of the most consistent annual meteor showers for southern viewers. Debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon causes this shower, a possible extinct comet.
Viewing Tip: Look around the region of radiant widely in all directions.. Look for Earth-grazers, when the Radiant is just on the horizon, with meteors wizzing from one end of the sky to the other from horizon to horizon. NB: Clouds, city lights, and bright moon-light all effect the visibility of meteor showers. Dark moon-less, clear country skies away from city lights affords the best viewing opportunities.