The universe and the astonishing phenomena occurring throughout the vast galaxies have captured the undivided attention of generations of astronomers, scientists, and explorers. They have been admired, personified, celebrated, and have been deeply embedded in the scriptures of human understanding of the universe. Comets and meteor showers are one of the most widely discussed and observed phenomena. Their rare occurrences and scenic beauty has left us in undying admiration and curiosity.
Comets are small planetisimal inter-planetary matter made up of dirt and ice , most of which come from the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt. They revolve in elliptical orbits around the solar system and after reaching a certain minimum distance from the sun, under the influence of solar winds/ radiation, begin to heat up and develop a tail. When a part of a comet or asteroid breaks off and enters the earth’s atmosphere while disintegrating due to the friction it encounters, the phenomenon observed is known as a meteor shower. They create a “shooting star” effect which is a sight to behold and cherish forever.
Here are 10 meteor showers and comets worth eagerly waiting for.
- Quadrantids meteor showers
These are very brief yet intense meteor showers usually occurring at the beginning of January. They can be observed in various parts of the northern hemisphere and are at a peak during 3-4 January. These showers originate from the comet EH1 and are radiant near the constellation known as Bootes. Their activity somewhat diminishes in February with the same active regions.
- Lyrids meteor showers
These are bright and long lasting meteor showers originating from the comet Thatcher and are active during the period 15-30 April. They are radiant around the constellation Lyra and are favorable for viewing from midnight to dawn. These showers often produce unusual luminous dust trains which are quite an intriguing sight. They peak around 22 and 23 april. These showers are often accompanied with sporadic ‘fireball’ like showers.
- Eta Aquariids meteor showers
The Eta Aquariids are known to enhance the beauty of the late hours , mostly during the first half of the May. They originate from the debris of the famous Halley’s comet and usually have bright yellow tails. They are radiant near the Aquarius constellation and display peak activity around 5-7 May. The activity of these showers is generally visible in the southern hemisphere.
- Delta Aquariids meteor showers
The Delta Aquariids have short lasting but substantial activity towards the end of July. Radiant around the constellation Capricornus, the origin of this shower is unknown, but the Machholz comet is suspected. These also display yellow trails like the other aquariids but are often encounter light interference from a waxing gibbous moon. Peaks are observed around 28-30 july.
- Alpha Capricornids meteor showers
Occuring around the same time as the delta aquariids shower, these peak around the same time as well, around 27-29 July. It is difficult to tell these from the delta aquariids. The parent comet is the 169/NEAT which was earlier recognized as an asteroid. These showers are radiant near Aquarius and the rate of falling is about 35-50 an hour with bolides. Bolides are exceptionally bright meteorites (as bright as a full moon) with higher chances of exploding in the atmosphere.
- Comet Hale-Bopp
The comet Hale-Bopp was discovered individually by two Americans, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp. While it is not the regarded as the most famous comet of all time, it has been widely regarded as the most observed comet. It is also one of the comets farthest from the sun discovered by amateurs. It was at its perihelion in 1997 and is expected to return after about 3000 years. In 1997, it appeared extremely bright (100 times the brightness of Halley’s) and was close enough to be visible to the naked eye. It was also observed during daytime throughout eastern Asia during a Solar Eclipse. With its long duration and high magnitude of brightness, it has been considered one of the most spectacular observations of the 20th century.
- Perseid meteor showers
With the Perseids showers predominating, August is quite full of meteor showers. They peak around 11-13 August. The Perseids showers originate from the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle and are radiant near the constellation Perseus. These showers are characterized as fast and bright with occasional occurrences of bolides and they frequently leave trains. They are known to be the best modern dependable showers.
- Orionids meteor showers
The Orionids showers, originating from the debris of the famous Halley’s Comet, are radiant just north to the constellation of Orion’s bright star Betelgeuse. These showers are known to be bright and quick, often in colors with longer than average tails. While they are active throughout October and half-way through November, they show peak activity around the third week of October. They are best viewed just before dawn.
- Geminids meteor Shower
The Geminids, considered to be one of the most reliable annual meteor showers, originate from the comet 3200 Phaethon and are radiant the constellation Gemini, which is also reflected in the name of these showers. These are active in the first half of December and peak around 13-14 December. These showers are accompanied with radiant activity around the constellations Leo and Canis major.
- Halley’s Comet
First observed in the modern period by the British Astronomer Edmund Halley in 1705, Halley’s Comet is most famous comet of all time. Halley also calculated its periodicity and expected it to come close to the Sun every 76 years. It passed close to earth the last time in 1986 and is expected to return in 2061- 2062. It is 8 kilometers wide and about 17 kilometers long. Studies suggest that it is composed mostly of non volatile components with hardly any icy parts. Giotto, a European spacecraft mission flew close to the comet and studied it from no further than 600 kilometers. It was the first successful attempt at observing a comet from such a close distance. The first images were received on 4 March 1986.
So, here are 10 famous meteor showers and comets which are widely discussed and observed. While most meteor showers can be observed on annually unless interfered with by light and solar winds. Comets, on the other hand, cannot be observed so easily and images recorded by space telescopes and space crafts are perhaps the best source of their activity now. Observing inter planetary phenomena is quite a hobby to develop and is known to bring peace to the mind of the observers.
Find out the upcoming showers and other events, find the suitable spots accordingly. After checking the weather and moon conditions, make a plan and pack warm clothes, food, beverages, hammocks or sleeping bags. With the help of some basic instruments like telescopes, the viewing experience can be further enhanced. Looking towards the radiant point can always help you to figure out where the shower is coming from and a constellation chart can be helpful for this. Smartphone apps for the same are also available.
To conclude, it’s free for all, it’s breathtaking, and it is a part of the vast incredible mysteries of our universe out there. So, follow your inner astronomer and experience magic.