Major Meteor Showers in 2006
The 2005 meteor year was dominated by the Moon, with the Perseids being the lone exception among major showers. Beyond the traditional major showers, a predicted increase in the incidence of Taurid fireballs did occur and was well-reported in the news media. The October Draconids (Giacobinids) produced a modest and poorly-observed outburst of faint meteors for Eastern Europe and Asia.
In 2006, the Moon will have a severe impact on the Perseids, but all of the other major showers will fare better. Novice meteor observers should enjoy the Geminids, and select regions may see a Leonid outburst. In general, this should be a great year for meteor observing!
Don't forget to consider the effect of radiant elevation when planning an observing session. Even if a shower is near its activity peak, you won't see a thing from it if the radiant is below your local horizon. In the case of a strong shower, you may expect a (very) few long "earthgrazing" meteors when the radiant is near the horizon, but even when the radiant has reached an elevation of 30 degrees you will only see half as many meteors as you would if it were at your local zenith. Most shower radiants are highest during local morning hours, often just before twilight begins. That's usually when you want to observe, although occasionally a rising Moon or a sharp activity peak will suggest an earlier time. Best viewing windows are suggested for each shower.
Vagaries of meteor activity, your personal ability to perceive meteors, and local sky conditions may all dramatically affect the rates you observe. Sky conditions to consider include weather and light pollution. If you can't see the summer Milky Way in Cygnus on a moonless night when this region of the sky is overhead, you probably won't see much from even the strongest annual showers. Clear, dark skies are essential for observing meteors. More shower meteors are visible from a dark site, and sporadic (random) meteor rates are enhanced greatly.
QUADRANTIDS (maximum January 3, 18h UT [10am PST; 1pm EST])
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
Best viewing window: The peak time favors Asian observers, who should be watching on the morning of Wednesday, January 4. The same morning should produce the best rates for European observers. North American observers will probably see their best rates on the morning of Tuesday, January 3 (some activity should be visible on January 4 as well, especially for East Coast observers). On either date, the best time to watch should be roughly 2:30am local standard time until morning twilight gets too bright (roughly 6:00am local standard time at 40 degrees N; earlier for southerly locations and later for northerly ones). These are the hours when the radiant is highest in the sky. Because of the northern radiant position, this is never a favorable shower for Southern Hemisphere observers. Far-northern observers have the radiant circumpolar (always above their horizon). It is thus possible to watch for Quadrantids all night long, although the radiant is low in the sky before midnight and rates will also be low. Evening watching will be most attractive to those in Northern Europe this year, as the predicted peak occurs during their local evening hours.
Recommended for: Adventurous meteor observers who are lucky enough to have clear skies.
Peak Quadrantid rates rival those of the Perseids and Geminids. However, the shower has a very sharp and variable maximum (possibly several hours later or earlier than the predicted time given above), and early January often features unforgiving weather. That makes this a difficult shower to catch at its best. Quadrantid rates are rather unpredictable. Observers who catch the peak from a dark site might see 60-100 Quadrantids per hour; North American observers will probably max out at about 15-45 Quads per hour on the morning of January 3, along with ~10 sporadic meteors. As mentioned above, the morning of January 4 may also be productive with the best rates for observers farther east.
Quadrantids are medium-velocity meteors, and some bright ones are often visible at maximum activity. The radiant is in a rather blank area surrounded by the constellation figures of Bootes, Hercules, Draco and Ursa Major (see radiant drift map). Off-maximum nights only produce a few shower members; the shower has a very short duration from about January 1-5.
Note: I was clouded out during the Quadrantids this year...
LYRIDS (maximum April 22, ~16hUT [9am PDT; 12noon EDT])
Moon: Waning Crescent (minor interference)
Best viewing window: Saturday morning, April 22, from roughly 12:30am local daylight time until morning twilight gets too bright (roughly 4:45 local daylight time at 40 degrees N). This is for North American observers; Asian observers will want to add a day and observe on the morning of April 23.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in serious meteor observing.
The Lyrids have produced a few exceptional displays in the past, but on a normal annual basis they are just barely a major shower. Typical maximum rates are 10-20 per hour. The time of maximum is rather variable, as is the shower's full width at half of maximum strength. The predicted time of maximum is less than ideal for North America, and even worse for Europe. Sometimes the maximum is fairly sharp; in other years, there has been a pronounced plateau of near-maximum rates lasting for many hours.
Lyrids produce fairly fast meteors with a reputation for being faint on average. Nights adjacent to the peak usually aren't worth watching, but observations on the morning of April 23 would be valuable to determine this year's activity profile.
Note: I observed the Lyrids under poor conditions on the morning of April 22 and saw 6 Lyrids and 3 sporadics in one hour. About average activity for the conditions.
Moon: First Quarter to Waxing Gibbous (minor to no interference)
Best viewing window: Saturday morning, May 6 (adjacent mornings may be just as good at the same local times). Focus on the last hour or so before twilight gets really bright (depends on your latitude and also on your longitude with respect to the center of your time zone). At latitude 42.6 degrees North, I've had my best results from about 3:40-4:40am local daylight time. At latitude 35 North, you might want to begin 15 minutes earlier and end up to a half-hour later.
Recommended for: Southern observers; also northerners who want a challenge.
The Eta Aquarids would produce maximum rates of >50 per hour if we could see them with the radiant high in a dark sky. In the northern temperate latitudes, we don't get close to that. We get just a small taste of them in an intricate dance just before dawn. At 40 degrees North, the radiant is only about 15 degrees up when twilight begins. If you could get those conditions for an hour, you might see 10-15 ETAs. However, everything's changing. Before that time, you're seeing fewer shower members because the radiant is lower. After that time, the radiant is higher and rates keep rising, but all too soon the full brunt of twilight wipes out your dark skies. You're fortunate indeed if you see 10 ETAs in an hour, along with about 5 sporadic (random) meteors. The farther south you are, the better you will fare.
The low radiant elevation means that the earliest ETAs you see will be "earthgrazers": long, relatively slow and often tracing paths along the horizon. Bright earthgrazers are spectacular. Unfortunately, because of their greater distance from the observer, low earthgrazers tend to be faint. As the radiant gets a bit higher, the ETAs take on more of their typical appearance: fast meteors, bright on average and often leaving a glowing train. You'll only catch a few of them, though, because dawn is approaching. One good thing about the Eta Aquarids is the long duration of the shower: rates near maximum may be maintained for several days. The shower also seems to fluctuate irregularly, so you could easily hit either a spurt or a lull. Try the mornings of May 5, 6 and/or 7 this year, and maybe you'll get lucky.
SOUTH DELTA AQUARIDS (maximum July 29 [broad])
Moon: Waxing Crescent (no interference)
Best viewing window: Any morning between July 28-31 (Friday through Monday mornings). 1:00-4:00am local daylight time would probably be the best hours.
Recommended for: Anyone with a dark site and a desire to see some meteors.
The South Delta Aquarids are barely a major shower from 40 degrees N. They are part of a complex of radiants in Aquarius, Capricornus and Piscis Austrinus, all of which combine with sporadic and early Perseid activity to provide a nice display of meteors on moonless mornings in late July. The stream normally produces about 5-10 meteors/hour, with overall activity of about 30/hour under good conditions.
The South Delta Aquarids are medium-speed meteors, and tend to be faint on average. Meteors from this stream are easily confused with those of several minor showers with nearby radiants. The Piscis Austrinids have a radiant near the bright star Fomalhaut, and the weak North Delta Aquarids have a radiant in central Aquarius during this period. A weak, diffuse radiant called the "anthelion" or "eclipticids" is also nearby. Farther west is the Alpha Capricornid radiant, which produces slower, often impressive meteors. You may not be able to assign every shower meteor to its correct radiant, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the show!
The faintness of most of this activity and the large number of faint sporadics mean that a dark sky is almost essential to the appreciation of this late-July enhancement of meteor rates. Southern observers will see higher rates, as the radiants are higher in their sky. All observers will see their best rates in the early morning hours.
PERSEIDS (maximum August 12, 23h UT [4pm PDT; 7pm EDT])
Moon: Waning Gibbous (major interference)
Best viewing window: Saturday evening, August 12, from the end of evening twilight through Sunday morning, August 13.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in meteors; just remember that the Moon will detract from the show.
The Perseids are probably the most-watched annual meteor shower. The shower has a very long duration, from about July 15 through August 25. The shower is most interesting around its peak on August 12 or 13. This year, the waning gibbous Moon will be a big nuisance, riding high in the sky during the morning hours when the Perseid radiant is high. In addition, the shower's normal peak will occur during daylight for North American observers. The radiant is above the horizon the entire night for observers north of latitude 32N, but it is fairly low at the end of evening twilight. Evening Perseid rates are low, then, but there are usually enough meteors to be interesting. The Moon is also low in the evening this year, and hopefully rates will not have fallen too far from their peak. East Coast observers will be favored this year. Serious observers will watch all night long, and deal with the Moon as best they can. Face the darkest part of your local sky, and if the Moon is in your field of view try to block it with some sort of obstruction.
Rates for most observers will probably top out at around 15-30 Perseids per hour, with a few sporadic and minor shower meteors added to the mix. Die-hard observers may be watching on adjacent nights; unfortunately, there are no Moon-free periods this year.
Perseids are fast meteors and tend to be fairly bright on average. An occasional fireball is seen, but these seem to depend on the luck of the draw.
NOTE: My report for Perseid maximum night is in my Astronomy Log.
ORIONIDS (maximum October 21 [broad and irregular])
Moon: New (no interference)
Best viewing windows: Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday morning, October 20-22. 1am - 6am local daylight time are the best hours. Other mornings in the period of October 17-25 may also be productive.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in meteors.
The Orionids are capable of producing interesting activity from October 17-25. Maximum rates seen from a dark site may reach 20-25 per hour, but sometimes there are lulls even around the traditional maximum of October 21. Any given morning session may be more or less interesting than expected. In any case, clear mornings during the activity period are always good times to look for meteors from dark sites.
The Orionids are fast meteors, perhaps a bit faint on average but capable of producing fireballs. Note that the radiant is north of Betelgeuse and not right in the middle of Orion. A minor shower called the Epsilon Geminids has a nearby radiant that can cause confusion, but usually produces only 1-2 meteors per hour. Early activity from the Taurids can produce a few nice, slow meteors from radiants farther west. Finally, 5-15 sporadic meteors are usually visible each hour from dark sites.
Note: Orionids exceptionally strong this year, with up to 74/hour on October 21 and excellent rates for several mornings! See my SPECIAL ARTICLE for details.
LEONIDS (maximum November 19; 4:45 UT
[November 18; 8:45pm PST; 11:45pm EST])
Moon: New (no interference)
Best viewing window: European observers should have the best view, during the predawn hours of Sunday, November 19. North American observers (East Coast strongly favored) should start watching just before midnight on Saturday evening, November 18, and continue watching through the morning hours of November 19.
Recommended for: Anyone interested in meteor observing; just keep in mind uncertainties in predictions and don't expect to see any Leonids if you're watching before the radiant rises (11pm-midnight for most mid-northern locations).
Some years ago, when the teams of David Asher and Robert McNaught were making their groundbreaking predictions of Leonid storms and outbursts for the years 1999-2002, they also noted a possible outburst for 2006. This November, we'll find out whether that prediction comes true. On November 19, the Earth is due to pass through a trail of debris left by the Leonids' parent comet on one of its previous returns. A sharp peak of perhaps 100 Leonids/hour is expected, although there is a bit of uncertainty. If it occurs very near the predicted time of 4:45 UT, Europe and Western Africa will see the display during the favored morning hours. The East Coast of North America will see a bit of the display (maybe up to 25 per hour) as earthgrazing Leonids starting when the radiant rises at around 11pm. Depending on just how short and sharp this peak is, most of North America may be out of luck.
The Leonids are very fast meteors. Most of the meteors seen during this outburst are expected to be faint, so dark skies will be very helpful. Even if you miss the November 19 outburst, the shower is active at a low "background" level for about a week from November 14-21. Expect about 10 meteors per hour on the mornings of November 17 and 18 due to this activity (best during the couple of hours just before the beginning of local morning twilight). A roughly equal number of sporadic meteors should be visible, along with a few late Taurids.
Note: Leonid activity was low during my 1.5 hours of observations on the morning of November 17, with rates of 6 Leonids and 12 other meteors per hour. Weather was not favorable at my location during the rest of the activity period. A couple of European observers with good skies confirm visual rates of 90-100+ Leonids per hour at the expected outburst time (~4:45 UT, November 19).
GEMINIDS (maximum December 14, ~11h UT [3am PST; 6am EST]) (radiant drift map from IMO)
Moon: Waning Crescent (moderate interference)
Best viewing windows: The entire night of December 13/14 (Wednesday evening through Thursday morning). Begin viewing around 9pm on Wednesday evening.
Recommended for: Anybody with clear skies on maximum night!
The Geminids are a beautiful, prolific and reliable shower. While December nights can be bone-chilling, for many areas sky transparency is better than it is during the August Perseids. The Geminids are also accessible for many Southern Hemisphere locations, unlike the Perseids. This year, there is slight interference from a waning crescent Moon (about 1/3 lit). However, the Moon doesn't rise until about 1am, allowing a lot of dark sky time. And even after it rises, the Moon shouldn't discourage continued observing. The radiant is highest in the sky at around 2am, but from mid-northern latitudes it is at a decent elevation from around 9pm until the beginning of morning twilight.
The Geminids can produce observed rates of up to 100/hour at maximum. Even if those numbers are a bit optimistic for this year, this will be a shower that just about anyone can enjoy if the weather cooperates. Decent numbers of sporadic meteors (~10-15/hour from dark sites) will add to the display. The shower often shows a plateau-like maximum, with near-maximum rates being sustained for many hours before dropping off rather sharply.
Geminids are medium-speed meteors. Most of them don't leave glowing trains, but the brighter ones are often colored (yellow, green and blue are most common). The proportion of bright meteors and fireballs is higher during and after maximum than on pre-maximum nights. The shower is active from December 7-17; observations before the peak night will be impeded by a bright Moon this year, although December 12/13 is worth a shot. December 14/15 may be worth watching as well, although as stated above activity tends to fall off sharply after the peak.
Southern Oregon really got walloped with a rain storm on December 13. There were a couple of "sucker holes" in the clouds on Thursday morning, but they closed quickly. In less than an hour of watching under 40%-100% cloud cover, I saw 6 Geminids including a -6 fireball at 10:12 UT.
Other Sources of Meteor Activity
The major showers listed here are fairly reliable and occur every year. The "best viewing windows" indicate the local times when the highest rates should be visible. However, meteor activity is visible on any clear night. Random sporadic meteors, minor showers, and major showers near the beginning or end of their activity period all contribute to this "background". For the Northern Hemisphere, there is a general pattern of lower rates during the first half of the year and higher rates during the second half, but rates vary greatly from hour to hour, day to day, and observer to observer. Occasionally, unexpected high activity occurs. It is up to the observer to objectively describe what was seen. In many cases, high activity may be ascribed to randomness. At other times, many of the meteors seen may be attributed to a common radiant.
Modeling is still being done on some periodic, irregular, and hypothetical showers that could produce surprises during 2006. If news updates warrant, synopses of these showers will be added to this page. The meteorobs mailing list is a good way to keep track of these developments.
Other Meteor Shower Info.
General shower attributes, radiant maps and predicted times of maximum are from the International Meteor Organization's 2006 Meteor Shower Calendar. All other on-site text and contents are Copyright 2005, 2006 by Wes Stone and may be reproduced for not-for-profit use so long as credit is given.