Do you ever look up in the sky and wonder over its mystery, all the incredible and fascinating things that it holds? People wait for festivals and birthdays and anniversaries. But how many of us wait for meteor showers or graze the sky at night for signs of comets? Comets and stars have been there for centuries and millennia and yet not everyone knows or searches for them. Like the sky that’s always there just above us and yet is so unreachable, comets and meteor showers have always been there but are unreachable to those who don’t search for them.
Watching “a bunch of stars falling from the sky” or “a comet whizzing past you” is an experience worthy of anyone’s lifetime. But catching these extra terrestrial objects on their way is not easy either. Knowing a little ‘how’ about them, when and where to look out will help those who want to catch a glimpse of these extraordinary objects of the sky.
Comets are usually viewed with telescopes or binoculars unless there is an outburst like that of the Comet Holmes. Naked eye comets like the Halley’s comet are rare and some of them appear only once in a thousand years. Meteor showers are more easily visible but you need dark, clear skies. Also knowing the location of their radiant point will tell you which part of the sky to look for the meteors. Meteor showers and comets can also be watched online.
Here are 10 meteor showers and comets we eagerly wait for-
10) Quadrantid and Lyrid meteor showers-
January Quadrantids and April Lyrids are the first meteor showers of the year. Quadrantids have high rates with hundred and more meteors per hour but the peak time last for only few hours. They radiates from an area inside the constellation Bootes, not far from the Big Dipper. The peak time for Quadrantids is January 3. Lyrids are April meteor showers that peak on 22 April. They are bright and radiates from the constellation Lyra. 10- 20 meteors can be seen per hour but uncommon surges might result in hundreds of meteors per hour. Look out for Lyrids this April before dawn.
9) Comet Encke-
Discovered in 1786, Comet Encke is a faithful comet that can be seen every three years- the shortest period of any known comet. Visible in the December morning sky, it was one of the brightest comets of 2013. Its last perihelion was on Nov.21, 2013. Its next perihelion is on March 10, 2017. Encke is a northern hemisphere comet. It can be viewed easily with a binocular and best time to view it is pre dawn. Comet Encke is responsible for two popular annual meteor showers – the Taurids in November and the Beta Taurids in June.
8) Perseid meteor shower-
Perseids are August meteor showers associated with the comet Swift- Tuttle. They are perhaps the most popular and one of the most spectacular annual meteor shower. Perseids are fast and bright and radiate from the constellation Perseus. Their peak time is Aug 11-13 with impressive rates of 50-100 meteors per hour. The meteors can be seen in all parts of the sky and best time to watch is in the wee hours before dawn.
7) Comet Holmes-
Although normally faint, Comet Holmes became visible to the naked eye in October 2007, becoming the largest known outburst by a comet. It briefly became the largest object in the solar system, its coma expanding to a diameter greater than that of the sun. Comet Holmes was discovered in 1892. It has an orbital period of apprx. 6 years. Its last perihelion was May 4, 2007 and the next perihelion will be on March 27, 2014.
6) Draconid meteor shower-
Draconids are meteor showers of the month of October that radiates from the northern constellation Draco. Unlike other meteor showers, Draconids are best seen in clear, dark evenings rather than pre dawn hours. The meteor rates vary from a normal rate of just a handful of meteors per hour to hundreds of meteors per hour in case of an outburst. In 1933 and 1946, Draconids created one of the most spectacular meteor storms of the 20th century with thousands of meteors visible per hour. This year, Draconids are expected to peak on October 7 evening and nightfall.
5) Comet Linear-
Discovered in 2004, Comet Linear has an orbital period of approx. 5 years. Its last perihelion was April 15, 2009 and the next perihelion will be on May 6, 2014. It is predicted that Comet Linear may create an exciting new meteor shower on the night of May 24, 2014, two weeks after its perihelion. Sky watchers in Southern Canada and the continental U.S. are well positioned to see the meteor showers which will come from the constellation Camelopardalis. There may be 100 to 400 meteors per hour.
Two other comets- Comet Faye and Comet Brooks 2- will come to perihelion on March 29, 2014 and June 7, 2014 resp.
4) Leonid meteor shower-
Leonids are meteor shower that peaks in mid November every year. They are caused by the comet Tempel-Tuttle and the location of their radiant is in the constellation Leo. Leonids are famous and are considered one of the most spectacular meteor showers. Usually Leonids have a rate of about 10-15 meteors per hour but meteor storm recurs every 33 years like in the November of 1966, the most incredible leonid meteor storm brought about 1000s of meteors per minute! This year the peak time is expected on Nov. 17 and 18th after midnight.
3) Comet ISON-
Comet ISON is a sungrazing comet discovered in 2012. It was one of the most popular and much anticipated comets of 2013. This comet was eagerly followed and discussed by experts, media and comet enthusiasts all around the world, even apps were made to help people find it. Some media sources deemed it “Comet of the Century”. But unfortunately, the comet is believed to have disintegrated while passing through the sun’s atmosphere on Thanksgiving day- November 28, 2013. Its nucleus seems to have disrupted during its perihelion to the sun and it is now a cloud of debris. Experts believe that we have seen the last of comet ISON.
2) Geminid meteor shower-
Geminids are one of the best meteor showers that can be seen in the month of December. They are bright and can be seen even in the evening as well as midnight and pre dawn hours. They radiate from the constellation Gemini and are visible either in the Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere. The rate is high with 50-160 meteors per hour at peak time. This year watch Geminids at their peak time in the evenings and morning hours of Dec 13 and 14.
1) Halley’s Comet-
It is the most popular comet and the first of its kind to be recognized. It is visible every 75-76 years and its first observation dates back to 239 B.C. Halley is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye. It was last seen in 1986 and is expected to return in mid 2061. Orionids in October and Eta Aquariids in May are meteor showers caused by the trials of dust left by Halley’s Comet.