Last chance to see meteor shower

2014-03-17 08:30
A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteor shower near Grazalema, Spain. (Jorge Guerrero, AFP, file)

A meteor streaks across the sky against a field of stars during a meteor shower near Grazalema, Spain. (Jorge Guerrero, AFP, file)

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Cape Town - Despite a bright Moon, there is still an opportunity to view the gamma-Normids meteor shower which peaked over the weekend.

The annual meteor shower didn't live up to expectations this year and relatively few "shooting stars" were seen over South Africa.

The South African Astronomical Observatory says that the shower can be observed until 22 March, though the bright Moon negatively impacts on conditions.

"However, they are best viewed between 00:00 AM and 04:30 AM [00:00 - 04:00] looking south-east toward the constellation Norma. Hourly rates are expected to be around eight meteors per hour at the maximum," the SAAO said.

Annual meteor showers can provide a spectacle as the objects burn up in the atmosphere. However, they can fill onlookers with fear if they are large enough so that they hit the surface of the Earth.

Comet debris

This was aptly demonstrated in the Ural region in Russia in 2013. A meteor travelling at an estimated 69 000km/h or 60 times the speed of sound hit Chelyabinsk and caused widespread damage, though no fatalities.

Predictable meteor showers are often the result of the Earth passing through the debris left behind by comets that orbited the sun. As the planet passes through the debris field, the meteor shower is created.

The SAAO says that the delat-Pavonids, which will peak on 6 April, will provide a good viewing experience.

"They are best viewed between 02:00 AM and 04:30 AM looking toward the constellation of Pavo (the Peacock). Hourly rates are expected to be around 5 meteors per hour at the maximum."

The Moon will be in its first quarter in early April with around 42% visibility, making it ideal for observation conditions.

Here's a YouTube video done in time lapse on the Geminid meteor shower.

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