April 9, 2020

AstroEvent:The Ursa Minorids; a Meteor Shower in the Making?

The general impression that most folks have of annual meteor showers is that they are largely static in nature. Long term trends, however, would suggest that they are slowly evolving, with new streams of debris replacing faint exhausted ones. Did our prehistoric ancestors watch the Perseids every August? Are there historically unknown meteor streams out there? What’s the life span on the average shower? This week, we give you what could be a meteor shower in the making; the Gamma Ursae Minorids.

Last year, amateur all-sky cameras in Finland recorded a flurry of 10 meteors that curiously traced back to the same radiant very near the north celestial pole. These occurred on the night of January 20th-21st, and researchers Peter Jenniskens and Esko Lyytinen have tentatively dubbed them the Gamma Ursae Minorids. A precise zenithal hourly rate, or even a host cometary body has yet to be identified, although radar observations suggest a rate higher than the usual background sporadic or toroidal activity for this time of year. An 11 day spread for radio activity suggests that the source body may have recently broke apart and would be a short period comet on a high orbital inclination (around 48.5°) with an orbit extending out to around Jupiter. Do keep an eye out for this poorly understood shower; you might just catch a meteor shower in the making!

The astronomy term for this week is Radio Meteor. Did you know that you can be doing radio astronomy tonight? In addition to visual meteors, meteor pings can also be heard on the FM band. Any FM receiver will work, but short wave frequencies around 30 to 50 MHz are best to catch reflections off of ionized trails. You can even catch these ghostly pings online via Spaceweather radio, a fun endeavor for a cloudy night.


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