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Astronomers Believe We Could Be In For A Rare Meteor Storm

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  • reynolds
    Senior Member
    • Oct 2018
    • 1981

    Astronomers Believe We Could Be In For A Rare Meteor Storm


    Astronomers believe we could be in for a rare meteor storm






    Outburst will be short-lived, but could give a good show

    Meteor storms can be defined as a substantially higher-than-normal outbursts of meteors entering our atmosphere, and occur when Earth sweeps through a dense cloud of leftover cometary debris. These events can produce several hundred meteors per hour. In 1833, a storm associated with the Leonid meteor shower produced 13,000 meteors per hour at its peak. While the annual alpha Monocerotids is forecast to produce an outburst this year, it is not expected to be anywhere close to that rare 1833 event. But it will still be something to see — if the weather co-operates. "We might see a meteor, and then a few seconds another meteor, and then two more meteors," said Peter Brown, professor and Canada research chair at Western University's department of physics and astronomy. One is that the radiant, or the area from which the meteors appear to originate — the constellation Monoceros, which is where the shower gets its name — will be low in the south, to the lower left of the very familiar constellation Orion.

    And finally, it's how brief the shower will be: the peak is between just 15 and 20 minutes. "Hollywood always has this view of meteor showers as these things that happen in 20 minutes and it's all over," Brown said. "And every other meteor shower is not like that — except this one … and that's rare." The potential storm is making headlines due to the prediction by astronomers and meteor experts Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen, recently published on the site Meteor News, that there's the potential for this year's shower to produce between 100 meteors an hour and upwards of 1,000 an hour. To put that in perspective, two of the year's best meteor showers — the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December — can produce, at their peak, about 100 to 150 meteors per hour in a dark-sky location. The last outburst, in 1995, produced roughly 400 an hour.


    "This year is the best geometry encounter since 1995," Brown said. "The problem is the exact encounter geometry depends on really knowing the orbit of the meteoroids as well, and we don't know them that precisely. So within that uncertainty, it could be that we just glance the trail or miss it — in which case nothing happens — to we plow right through the middle." If Earth does plow right through it, that means we'll get an intense shower for 15 or 20 minutes, perhaps seeing five or six meteors every minute.

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