December 20, 2007

Ursid Meteor Shower

Referring back to our brief post on Comet 8/P Tuttle I actually forgot something very important about that comet; we are only two days from passing through the debris left along the path of the comet. The radiant will be in the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), near Polaris.

The Ursid meteor shwoer has been quite dull in the preceding years, but experts are expecting a much grander show this year because the comet is quickly approaching us. For some pics of this comet, which is as big but not as bright as comet Halley, check out the always cool Flintstone Stargazing, or some more amateur photos at SETI's dedicated website.

Unfortunately, viewing conditions will not be ideal for this meteor shower because of the fact that it will be peaking when North America is in the day time, and Europe and Asia will have a bright moon, obscuring their view of outburst as well. Suggestions for successful viewing on SETI's website include blocking the Moon with an obstruction such as a telephone pole and viewing the constellation.

Interestingly, the dust in this comet that we see is centuries old; this year's dust is estimated to be from the comet's passing between 300 and 900 A.D. Results of a study making this claim can be found in the Journal of the International Meteor Organization.

Peter Jenniskens, a meteor astronomer with the SETI institute, says this on about a potential mission to study the Ursids meteor phenomena, "To investigate this, we are hoping for an opportunity to observe the outburst from a Gulfstream V aircraft in a mission similar to our campaign to study the September 1 Aurigids."

"If approved, the Ursid flight will be a long 16-hour mission, involving one aircraft, departing from NASA Ames Research Center in the early morning of December 22nd. The plane will fly north-west towards Alaska, land in Anchorage for a refuel stop, and then continue on to follow the Earth's shadow, fly over the Arctic and turn towards Canada to return at Ames just after sunset."

"We don't need to fly all the way to the North Pole, just far enough north to stay in darkness all the time. The aircraft will follow the Earth's rotation, making the meteors fall from a radiant high in the sky throughout the mission. The moon will stay low on the horizon on one side of the plane."

The can view the very cool, official prediction paper of the Ursid meteor shower here. Check this out; it is by far the most in-depth information about this meteor shower available this year.

Below I have included SETI's official Ursid meteor shower debris prediction:

Very cool mission idea. Too bad that this meteor shower won't be easy to view from North America; seems interesting. Maybe we'll be lucky enough to catch a stray...

I usually like to include an amateur photo of any meteor shower I've found, but I've yet to actually find any amateur astrophotography regarding the Ursids (other than the host comet 8/P Tuttle). Seems this is a difficult one to image; let me know if anyone is able to.

Happy meteor hunting!