Meteor Activity Outlook for April 28-May 4, 2012

The following is a slightly edited version of Bob Lunsford’s excellent weekly summary of meteor activity. The original version can be found at the American Meteor Society’s site.

May is a fairly slow month for meteor activity. The Eta Aquariids are very active the first two weeks of the month then fade as the month progresses. The only other showers active this month are the weak Nu Cygnids, the Eta Lyrids,  and the Antihelion radiant. These will add only 1-2 meteors per hour to the total count. Sporadic rates are low but steady as seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45 N). Sporadic rates seen from the mid-southern hemisphere (45 S) are strong and remain so the entire month.

During this period the moon reaches its first quarter phase on Sunday the 29th. At this time the moon will be located ninety degrees east of the sun and will set near 0100 local daylight time (LDT). As the week progresses the waxing gibbous moon will set later in the morning, decreasing the window of opportunity to view in totally dark conditions. The estimated total hourly rates for evening observers this week is near three for observers in the northern hemisphere and four for those south of the equator. For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near ten as seen from mid-northern latitudes and fourteen from mid-southern latitudes. The actual rates will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Evening rates are reduced due to moonlight.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning April 28/29. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period.

The following showers are expected to be active this week:

The last of the Pi Puppids (PPU) are seen this weekend from a radiant located at 07:32 (113) -46. This area of the sky is located central Puppis, three degrees south of the third magnitude star Sigma Puppis. This area of the sky is best seen as soon as it becomes dark during the early evening hours. Rates of less than one per hour are expected, no matter your location. Observers located in the southern hemisphere have a much better view of this activity as the radiant lies higher in the sky. At 18km/sec. the Pi Puppids would produce meteors of very slow velocity.

The large Antihelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 15:24 (231) -19. This position lies in central Libra, directly between the third magnitude star Zubenelgenubi (Alpha Librae) and second magnitude Dschubba (Delta Scorpii). Due to the large size of this radiant, Antihelion activity may also appear from extreme eastern Hydra, eastern Virgo, northwestern Scorpius, as well as Libra. This radiant is best placed near 0200 LDT, when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Rates at this time should be near two per hour as seen from the northern hemisphere and three as seen from south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Antihelion meteor would be of slow velocity.

Studies of the IMO video database by Sirko Molau and Juergen Rendtel has revealed a weak radiant active in the constellation of Cygnus this time of year. The Nu Cygnids (NCY) are active from April 18 through May 7 with maximum activity occurring on April 19. The current radiant position lies at 21:32 (323) +46. This position lies in northeast Cygnus, one degree west of the faint star Rho Cygni. The radiant is best placed during the last dark hour before dawn, when it lies highest above the horizon in a dark sky. Due to the northern declination of the radiant, this activity is not well seen from the southern hemisphere. No matter your location, rates are expected to be less than one per hour. At 42km/sec. the Nu Cygnids would produce meteors of average velocity.

The Eta Aquariids (ETA) are particles from Halleys Comet, produced in Earth-crossing orbits many centuries ago. We pass closest to these orbits from May 5 through the 9th. During this period the Eta Aquariids are at their best, capable of producing ZHRs of sixty. The actual visible rates are most often less than half this figure due to the low altitude of the radiant at dawn. Observed hourly rates at maximum normally vary from zero at 60 degrees north latitude to 30 near the equator and back down to near zero again in Antarctica, where the radiant elevation is again very low. Hourly rates this weekend will most likely be less than one per hour. Rates will slowly increase as the week progresses as we approach the May 7 maximum. The radiant is currently located at 22:14 (334) -03. This area of the sky is located in northern Aquarius, two degrees southwest of the fourth magnitude star Gamma Aquarii. The best time to view this activity is during the hour before the start of morning twilight, when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. With the radiant low in the east it would be best to face halfway up in the sky in that same direction. If the radiant has sufficient altitude Eta Aquariid meteors can also be seen shooting down toward the eastern horizon. With an entry velocity of 67 kilometers per second, a majority of these meteors will appear to move swiftly with a high percentage of the bright meteors leaving persistent trains. Surprisingly, this shower produces very few fireballs.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately five sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near one per hour. As seen from the mid-southern hemisphere (45S), morning rates would be near ten per hour as seen from rural observing sites and two per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Evening rates are reduced due to moonlight.

The list below presents a condensed version of the expected activity this week.
Rates and positions are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Pi Puppids (PPU) – 07:32 (113) -46   Velocity 18km/sec
Northern Hemisphere – <1 per hr Southern Hemisphere – <1 per hour

Antihelion (ANT) – 15:24 (231) -19   Velocity 30km/sec
Northern Hemisphere – 2 per hr Southern Hemisphere – 3 per hour

Nu Cygnids (NCY) – 20:44 (311) +42   Velocity 42km/sec
Northern Hemisphere – <1 per hr Southern Hemisphere – <1 per hour

Eta Aquariids (ETA) – 22:14 (334) -03   Velocity 67km/sec
Northern Hemisphere – <1 per hr Southern Hemisphere – <1 per hour

Clear Skies!
Robert Lunsford
American Meteor Society