Asteroid Meteor Showers – Organise A Watch Party

Asteroid Meteor Showers – Organise A Watch Party

Asteroid Meteor Showers – Organise A Watch Party https://asteroidday-uploads.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/02195845/12.jpeg 512 404 Asteroid Day Asteroid Day https://asteroidday-uploads.s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/02195845/12.jpeg

Meteor Showers In A Nutshell

A meteor, often known as a shooting star, is formed when fragments drifting through space penetrate Earth’s upper atmosphere. Friction with the atmosphere causes these particles to reach very high temperatures and catch fire. The luminous trail produced by this process is the meteor that we usually see at night. The size of the fragments that make up the meteors varies from a few millimetres to a few metres. The larger ones are rarer and can reach the Earth’s surface, becoming known as meteorites.

According to the Britannica dictionary, a small body starts its life as a meteoroid floating through space between the planets until it makes a bright streak of light in Earth’s atmosphere as a meteor and then, if it isn’t consumed by frictional heating, finally lands on the ground as a meteorite.

At certain times of the year, we can observe a much greater number of meteors during the night.

We call these events meteor showers and they are among the most accessible astronomical phenomena that one can observe without binoculars or telescopes. All it takes the observer is to find a comfortable position in a dark place and look in the right direction in the sky.

Illustration explaining the occurrence of a meteor shower (Astronomy For Dummies)

Comets are reputed to be responsible for causing meteor showers, but asteroids can also play that role. Some of these meteor showers originated from asteroids and are on the list of the easiest to observe during the year. They present a good opportunity for activities and events that allow direct observation of the sky and make your audience reflect on how fascinating asteroids are and how they don’t cease to surprise us.

There are two great opportunities to observe meteor showers caused by asteroids and you will see that the interval between them is relatively short and coincides with traditional vacation periods and the New Year festivities in many countries:

Radiant (point where meteors come out) location of Geminids and Quadrantids in the sky (Greg Smye-Rumsby/Astronomy Now)

Geminids – The meteors of this shower can already be seen from November and their peak occurs in mid-December, with chances of exceeding 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. The shower has this name because the meteors seem to be coming from Gemini (The Twins), a constellation that can be easily located anywhere on our planet. It neighbours the famous Orion Belt. Find out more about Geminidis history and viewing tips here.

Quadrantids – This shower can be observed from the end of December and its peak occurs in the first days of the new year. The number of meteors per hour varies but it can approach 100 under ideal conditions. The name comes from an obsolete constellation, which existed until the 19th century and was removed after the introduction of the official definition of constellations by the International Astronomical Union in 1922. Northern Hemisphere observers have the advantage of seeing these meteors because they come from a region of the sky near the tip of the Big Dipper, a famous asterism with minimal visibility for observers in more southern latitudes. Further details of this shower can be found here.

Event Ideas

Here are some suggestions for activities that will facilitate the understanding of meteor showers:

Many people are often confused by the terminology. It would be a good idea to make an introductory presentation explaining the differences between asteroids, meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites. This fun video from the Royal Observatory Greenwich can be a great conversation starter, especially if you’re talking to children.

It is also important to explain how it is possible for some asteroids to generate meteor showers. This lesson teaches about some peculiar asteroids that can acquire comet-like characteristics.

Radar image of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon (left) and R-band image of asteroid 2003 EH1 (right) (Arecibo Observatory/NASA/NSF / Toshi Kasuga, David Jewitt)

Present the asteroids responsible for these two meteor showers: 3200 Phaethon and (196256) 2003 EH1. The Eyes on Asteroids website is a wonderful tool that allows you to travel through these asteroids virtually. The meteorshowers.org website is also very useful for showing the orbit of the particles that generate the Geminids and the Quadrantids in 3D.

Marshmallow demonstration

Keep your audience up to date with studies and news about these asteroids. Recently a team of scientists analysed several years of observations of 3200 Phaethon, the asteroid responsible for the Geminids, and noticed that its rotation speed is faster. Did you know that the Japanese space agency (JAXA) in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) is planning a mission to explore this asteroid?

Consider doing a demonstration with marshmallows to show the effect of friction that a particle from space undergoes as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and allows us to see them in the sky. Check out his video by the National Space Centre.

Outdoor Activities

Astro Camping is an increasingly popular activity carried out at night in locations far from the lights of urban centres. This activity can be hosted on farms, ranches and large open-air locations. Good planning is necessary to avoid unforeseen setbacks. Here is a basic checklist:

  • First of all, verify if the latitude of your region is favourable for observing Geminids and Quadrantids. In many places the radiant (where meteors come out) is under the horizon or appears very low, significantly reducing the number of meteors that can be observed. Remember: the height of the radiant in the sky impacts the chances of seeing meteors. The Time and Date website simulates the visualisation of Geminids and Quadrantids sky regions according to latitude and gives meteor visibility conditions. The Star Chart app is a good free option to know the exact location of meteor showers using mobile devices.

Outdoor activities held during Asteroid Day 2022 in Azerbaijan (upper left), Mexico (upper right), Brazil (bottom left) and Italy (bottom right). These activities can be adapted to observe meteor showers. (Kosmologya/ Discover the Interactive Museum of Science and Technology and La Piedra del Tesoro Campamento / Sarandi Astronomy Club/ Gruppo Astrofili N. Copernico)

  • Check the weather forecast at the observation site. If the weather is partially cloudy, you could start with some alternative activities before the sky visibility improves. If there is a more severe weather forecast like dense clouds, rain, storms or snow don’t risk it. Remember that these meteor showers occur annually at the same time.
  • The luminosity of the Moon limits meteor observation. The peak of a meteor shower coinciding with the New Moon is perfect, but in the First and Last Quarters and the nights around this time, it will be necessary to check if the Moon’s position will be angularly distant from the radiant. A Full Moon that coincides with the peak of the meteor shower will not entirely prevent you from observing them, but the number of meteors observed will drop dramatically, close to zero.
  • In deciding on the ideal observation night, it is important to advise the public not to use luminous screen devices 30 minutes before the observation begins. The eyes need to be prepared for a dark environment in order to observe the sky better. Red flashlights are recommended if a light source is indispensable without disturbing observations.
  • Finally, make sure to prepare warm clothing and hot drinks when it’s cold, insect repellents when it’s hot and comfortable seats to improve your observation experience.

Consider combining fun activities with the observation sessions. See how many amazing things you can do:

  • Do a sky identification session, showing the brightest stars of the night, the main constellations and also the regions where obsolete constellations existed, such as the one named the Quadrantids.
  • How many meteors is your audience able to observe? Do 30 or 60-minute sessions and at the end check who has observed the most.
  • In which direction was the greatest number of meteors observed? Divide your audience into groups targeting each cardinal point (north, south, east, west) and check the result after the session.
  • How bright are these meteors? When a meteor is sighted, guide observers to compare brightness using visible stars or planets as a reference.
  • What is the meteor’s trajectory? Use a printed sky chart, divide the observers into groups and while one part observes, the other should sketch on the sky chart the meteor’s trajectory. The Skymaps website has printable versions of these charts.

With all these options you can turn a starry night into an unforgettable event. Don’t forget to register on our webpage and report it later.