Fireworks in the Sky: New Meteor Shower to Add to the Geminids Spectacle?

With the splendor of the Geminids, there may be an additional bonus this time around! NASA news reports that along with the debris of the 3200 Phaethon, which causes the Geminids meteor shower, there may be another comet – Comet Wirtanen – which can make a significant contribution to the already divine cosmic spectacle.

See our Geminids coverage: http://techie-buzz.com/science/geminids-2012.html

Comet Wirtanen is a relatively recent discovery, discovered only in 1948. It orbits the sun in 5.4 years in a tight enough orbit. The Earth has just not run into the debris left in the wake of the comet passage. Yet!

NASA predicts that 2012 may be different. Remember, maybe! The Earth may be crossing the stream of debris any time between 10th to the 14th of December, coinciding brilliantly with the Geminids meteor shower.

If it happens…

The Wirtanen meteor shower will start early evening, right after sunset. So early evening, you can rendezvous with the Wirtanen, while the Geminids switch on later on! The radiant – or the point in the sky where the meteor shower is supposed to radiate from – will be in the Pisces constellation. That is if the Wirtanen shower happens at all!

If this happens – and this will happen only for the first time – the meteor shower may be christened ‘Piscids’, since it will originate from the Pisces constellation. The Pisces lie just south of the Pegasus constellation, which is easy enough to identify. The Pegasus comprises of four bright stars, arranged in a roughly squarish fashion. Though it may be easy to identify, the Pisces might be difficult to spot from a not-so-dark location, as the stars are pretty dim.

The to-be Piscids are expected to be moving slowly. We have no idea about the frequency as this will be the first time we’ll be seeing them. The same can be said about the brightness.

This weekend is a treat for all sky watching enthusiasts. Even if the Piscids prove to be a no-show, there will always be the Geminids to fall back on.

Once again, best of luck and happy sky watching.

The Ultimate Guide: Geminids Meteor Shower to Light Up Skies in Two Days!

The Geminids are all set to make up for the disappointment of the Leonids. The Geminids peak on the night of 13th December and are expected to come to their full glory at about 2 AM on the 14th of December. All of this should fire you up to consider a trip away from the city lights and into the wilderness for a night of pristine sky watching.

The Geminids also luckily coincide with the New Moon this time, meaning that the absence of the moon will render these streaks of light the brightest object in the night sky. The Geminids are known for slow, bright and graceful meteors and a pretty high frequency. This time the expected frequency is one of the all-time highs of 120 – 140 meteors per hour – that’s more than 2 per minute!

The Geminids

While the Leonids are known for fast bright streaks, the Geminids will be much more relaxed! They travel at about half the speed of the Leonids, but have a higher percentage of faint meteors. But fret not, the Geminids have a high shower rate so that shouldn’t be a problem.

The Geminids, as the name suggests, stream out from the Gemini constellation, the so-called ‘radiant’. The Geminids are nearby the distinct Orion constellation. So it shouldn’t be difficult to spot. The Royal Astronomical Society predicts that the peak will occur at about 8 PM EST on the 13th. That means that in India, you are going to have the peak at about 11:30 PM IST. That is great news as you might be able to catch the extravagantly high 120+ meteors per hour shower rate. If you miss out on this peak, don’t worry – slightly reduced rates of about 60 meteors per hour are going to continue for about 8 hours even after the peak!

Take precautions

If you’re indeed going to leave the comfort of the city and venture into dark wilderness to watch the spectacle, I suggest you do take proper precautions. Make sure you have warm clothes, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll be surprised to find out how fast the temperature drops as you drive out of the pollution cover of the city. Remember, you cannot light any camp fires, since you won’t want to spoil your night vision.

Happy meteor watching.

Fireball Spotted Over New Zealand; Reason Unknown

Eyewitnesses report seeing the trails of a bright meteor over central New Zealand. There have been a large number of reports from the major cities of Wellington and Christchurch.

This is probably one of the brightest among a series of such meteors, part of a meteor shower.
WeatherWatch.co.nz has been receiving a huge number of hits following this event. Eyewitnesses have been sending in photos to the site. We host a couple of them below, both taken from weatherwatch.co.nz gallery

Meteor spotted over New Zealand.
A close-up of the trails of the meteor

The exact reason for the meteor hasn’t been established. There hasn’t been any reports of any meteor actually hitting the earth, and neither has there been any news of panic from the public in general.

Here’s a video of the event:

High-Def Video Captures A Comet As It Plunges Into The Sun

NASA’s SOHO telescope has just captured the last few moments of a comet as it smashed into the Sun. The Comet SWAN, presently officially known as C/2012 E2 (SWAN), can be clearly seen plunging into the Sun. SOHO’s LASCO C2 and C3 camera took the photos, which were then stitched up to form a High-Definition video.

The point to note is that SWAN did not actually crash into the Sun. There was no contact – it vaporized much before that. The nearest distance calculated turns out to be 350,000 km away from the Solar surface, but probably, the comet was gone much before that.

Here is a stunning photo snapped by the LASCO C2 camera, which clearly shows the SWAN comet before its demise.

Comet Swan can be clearly seen on the bottom left quarter (Courtesy: NASA, SOHO)

SWAN was a bright comet. Comet scientists were quite enthusiastic about it. Its doom was predicted by many and so SOHO knew exactly what to look for – and found it. Take a look at this spectacular video, all in 1080p goodness!

Please note that the ensuing solar flare seen in the video occurring diametrically opposite to the SWAN comet’s trajectory is just a coincidence. The two events occur hours apart and the solar flare is completely uncorrelated to the cometary demise. No comet is big enough to cause that big a disturbance on the Sun’s surface.

Enjoy the carnage.

Fireball Spotted Across Britain, Reactions Range From Excitement To Paranoia

A fireball has been spotted across the length of the British Isles, starting as north as Scotland and ending as south as Devon. At about 21:40 GMT yesterday, eyewitnesses reported seeing a “bright light” with and “orange glow” and there were fears of an aircraft crashing through the atmosphere. However, these fears were calmed by what the Met Office tweeted, slightly incorrectly:

Hi All, for anyone seeing something in the night sky, we believe it was a meteorite.

A meteor that was spotted in Australia in 2009. This is NOT what was spotted in Britain yesterday

Meteorites are large pieces of rock, which are usually the end-products of some planet forming event that didn’t quite succeed. They are the leftovers. When such a leftover piece enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it is burnt up due to friction with the atmospheric molecules. If it is big enough, it survives until impact on the Earth’s surface, earning the label ‘meteorite’ in the process. This is where the Met Office tweet goofed up; there is no evidence to show that the fireball actually landed somewhere on Earth.

The police forces were inundated with calls from frantic eyewitnesses and were busy assuring them that nothing was wrong. Here is a grainy video taken of the fireball:

From Excitement to the End of Life

Laura Yusuf of Surrey saw the fireball while driving on M6 and reported:

It was an amazing sight. Bright orange flames trailing behind it as it slowly burnt itself out,

However, many were less than rational about it. Gary Fildes, a director of a local Observatory, who also spotted the meteorite first hand, was at the receiving end of a lot of frantic calls. He recalls a particular one, which he apparently had fun answering:

They went absolutely mental. I was getting questions about what it is and is it going to end life on Earth? It was massively exciting.

The meteor was spotted as far south as Devon, meaning that it had to be a big rock that was streaking across the skies.

Brief And Intense Meteor Shower To Set Sky Ablaze On Morning of 4th Jan.

Cosmic fireworks are all set to light up the night sky in the early hours of 4th Jan, 2012. A little known meteor shower, the Quadrantids, will set the sky ablaze during a brief, but intense meteor shower. Unfortunately, only Northern Hemisphere residents will be able to see the shower. The peak will be at about 3 AM EST in the morning. With the moon setting at about this time, skywatchers will be able to get a great view! The frequency of the showers is expected to cross 100 per hour for a very brief duration.

Streaks from the Quadrantid, taken from Alberta Canada (Courtesy: National Geographic)

Where to Look

The Quadrantids are named after an extinct constellation, Quadrans Muralis. It will be hedged in between the Draco constellation to the North, the Big Dipper and the Arcturus constellation further east. It will be close to the Pole Star, so if you can identify that you’ll be home dry! You can alternatively get a compass to point North and that’ll do it too!

The Location of the radiant in the sky (Courtesy: www.meteorshowersonline.com)

The showers will be visible best to the residents in the higher latitudes. North Americans and Canadians will be getting a brilliant view. The Quadrantids have been known to clock counts at even 200 per hour. However, the window of opportunity is really small about a matter of a few hours and only on one day. This is in contrast with the more famous Geminids and the Perseids, which can be seen for days.

Happy sky watching.

Cosmic Spectacle: Leonid Meteor Shower To Light Up Sky Tonight

The Leonids are upon us and that means that you should cancel all your plans and just stare towards the heavens tonight. On the night of 17th November (i.e between 17th and 18th), the Leonids are going to peak in intensity and we intend to give you every piece of information you need to know about them.

Leonids are seen when the Earth moves into the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle. They are called Leonids, since their radiant (i.e. the point in the sky from where they appear to radiate’ out) lies in the constellation of Leo. This is generally the procedure followed for naming meteor showers.

The radiant for the Leonids (Image Courtesy: ESA)

The peak this year is right on schedule and will be on 17th November. However, don’t despair if you miss it tonight. The meteor peak doesn’t fall off too sharply and you will be able to catch some streaks the day after as well, but obviously the rate will reduce.

The Leonids are one of the most prolific meteor showers known. They are also very capricious in their counts per hour. Leonids have been known to exceed 1000 streaks an hour and that becomes a scene you cannot possibly afford to miss. One such shower happened in the year 1966 and again as recently as 1999.

Details you need to know

Peak of the shower

Now for some bad news. The peak of the shower will happen at about 10 PM EST, when the radiant will be either near the horizon or below it for most places around the globe experiencing nighttime. In the US, the radiant will poke above the horizon at about 1 AM, but light pollution from the horizon can severely restrict the number of meteors you see, as many are very faint.

Avoid light pollution

We suggest that you try and go to a place which has as little light pollution as possible. Go out of the city, if possible. We recommend that you like comfortably on your back and don’t hurry things. The meteors are fickle-minded objects and there may be no sign of them for several minutes, may be even an hour. However, they will come in bunches, as the Leonids are reputed to do. Then they will relent again and not appear for quite some time. This effect will be more pronounced, if your view is blurred by smog as most of the streaks will be quite faint.

The Leonids (Courtesy: Mr. Kwown O Chul and www.astrokorea.com)
Photographing the shower

For enthusiastic photographers, here’s a quick tip. Try exposures of 5 to 10 minutes and, thus, you’ll need a tripod. Try to get as far away from the moon as possible and you should have no problems doing that here. If you’re lucky, you’ll get brilliant streaks, roughly perpendicular to the trails made by stars in the sky (photo above).

Remember that the time to watch out for is at about 12:30 AM to 1:00 AM. Happy skywatching.

NASA Snaps Up A Photo Of The Large Asteroid As It Passes Earth

NASA has just released a new image of the Asteroid YU55 as it continues its passage close to the Earth. The image was captured by the Deep Space Network situated in Goldstone, California. The image was taken yesterday.

The asteroid will be just a bit closer to the Earth than the moon is. Its closest approach will be about 0.85 times the distance from Earth to Moon. It will have no effect on the Earth gravitationally, including the tides. There is no truth to the various rumours and fears going around.

We covered the flyby here:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/rock-close-to-earth.html
Asteroid 2005 YU55. The image from NASA's Deep Space Network (Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This is the photo that was snapped up by NASA’s Deep Space Network yesterday at 11:45 PM PST. At that time the asteroid was 3.6 lunar distances away or about 1.38 million kilometers, says NASA. This is the closest any rock has got to the Earth in a very long time, the last time being in 1976. It is expected to return in 2028.

There will be more photos of the rock as it approaches closer to the Earth.

“Potentially Hazardous” Asteroid Coming Really Close To Earth on November 8; Enjoy The Spectacle

While astronomers are busy falling over one another to observe a small rock as it flies by Earth, conspiracy theorists are doing the same prophesying the End of the World. An asteroid, 400-meters across, will pass by Earth on the 8th of November, coming as close as asteroids get. However, it will still clear the Earth by a gaping 320,000 kilometers or 200,000 miles, far enough to be considered absolutely safe for us. It’s called 2005 YU55 and you’ll need a telescope even a moderately powerful one will do to observe it.

The 2005 YU55 asteroid, as photographed by the Arecibo telescope

The rock will be a magnitude 11 object, which means it is very faint. On the magnitude scale of brightness, the brighter the object is, the lesser is its magnitude. For example, the Sun has a magnitude of -26 (minus 26), while the faintest object visible with the naked eye is about 6. This means that you’ll need a telescope to observe it. The minimum size of the aperture recommended is about 12.5 cm; anything bigger will be great.

Don’t Panic!

2005 YU55 has been called a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid’, but there is no cause to panic since this is a standard classification used for asteroids which cross the Earth’s orbit. However, as we said earlier, there is no cause for worry. The rock will miss Earth by a comfortably long distance and is also small enough to not exert any substantial amount of gravitational attraction.

Rock Watching

The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico

The asteroid has been observed before and is known to contain interesting features, many just a few kilometers across. NASA’s Deep Space Network of radio telescopes will have a watchful eye out for the floating rock, as well as the Arecibo telescope, situated in Puerto Rico.  Of course, other than these high-profile telescopes, there will be a lot of amateur skywatchers out with their gear. The moon will create problems yet again, being too bright against the relatively fainter asteroid.

Our advice: if you have the gear, go and have a great time. Do click images! Forget about doomsday predictions, they are just hot air.

Cosmic Spectacle: Watch the Brilliant Orionid Meteor Shower on Saturday, Thanks To Halley’s Comet

It’s just the debris left behind by the famous Halley comet, but is enough to light the night sky up. The Orionid meteor shower is one of the most spectacular meteor showers that occur during the year.  The shower will peak on the morning of 22nd  October, but the broad maximum means that  the shower lasts from the 20th  of October to the 24th  of October. This is widely considered to be a toned down version of the famous Perseid meteor shower.

The Radiant of the Orionids lie near Betelgeuse (red giant star) of the Orion constellation

The shower is so named since it appears to  originate from near the Orion constellation. The radiant (the point from where the shower is seen to originate) lies near the red giant star Betelgeuse in Orion (pic above).

When and What to Watch for

This time’s show should be a spectacle, given that the moon will be at its crescent stage and near the horizon at the peak of the shower. The best time to watch for the shower will be around 1:00 AM, while the moon peaks at about 2:00 AM EST.

The Orionid consists of tiny particles of debris from the parent comet of the size of sand grains. This is the trail of rubble that the Halley comet leaves behind as it makes an orbit around the Sun. The shower happens when the Earth moves through this trail. The dust falls’ through the atmosphere igniting due to the friction with the Earth’s atmosphere and causes streaks, which last for some time. These are popularly misnamed Shooting Stars’.

Prolific and long lasting

The Orionid shower is expected to produce about 20 meteors per hour on average, with the maximum likely hitting even 40 per hour, making this one of the most prolific meteor showers. However, due to the smallness of the burning pieces of debris, the shower will be drowned out by any light pollution close to your point of observation.

The signature of the Orionids is the long-lasting trails and the high speed of the particles.

You need not worry if you fail to catch the shower on the morning of 22nd October. You’ll have a chance on the 23rd and 24th as well, but the frequency will be going down steadily. Technically, the shower continues till the first week of November, but you’ll be able to see only a few stragglers’ streaking across the sky.

Happy skywatching.