Sunday 3 November 2019

The Southern Lambda Draconid Meteor Shower

The Southern Lambda Draconid Meteor Shower is visible between 1 and 4 November each year, with peak activity due on the night of Sunday 3 November 2019, although at its peak the shower produces less that one meteor per hour. Despite their name, the radiant point of the Southern Lambda Draconids, i.e. the point from which the meteors appear to radiate, is in the constellation of Ursa Major. Although this meteor shower is very hard to spot, there is a chance of seeing it this year as peak activity occurs not long after the New Moon on 28 October, reducing the lunar glare in the sky, and the Moon sets at about 8.00 pm, with the best viewing of the shower being in the last hour before dawn.

 The Radiant Point of the Southern Lambda Draconid Meteors. Modified from Dominic Ford/Map of the Constellations/In The Sky.

Meteor streams are thought to come from dust shed by comets as they come close to the Sun and their icy surfaces begin to evaporate away. Although the dust is separated from the comet, it continues to orbit the Sun on roughly the same orbital path, creating a visible meteor shower when the Earth crosses that path, and flecks of dust burn in the upper atmosphere, due to friction with the atmosphere. In the case of the Southern Lambda Draconid meteors the dust particles strike the atmosphere at speeds of about 176 400 km per hour, burning up in the upper atmosphere and producing a light show in the process, but the parent body has not been identified.
The Earth passing through a stream of comet dust, resulting in a meteor shower. Not to scale. Astro Bob.
The Southern Lambda Draconid Meteors were discovered by Željko Andreić of the Croatian Meteor Network, using a distributed network of small observatories run by volunteers, mostly school groups, to collect data which is then collated using the SonantaCo software package. The project has been running since 2007 and has made a number of discoveries.

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