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Nigerian skies, in 2017 – Part 7


The next major meteor display, after Perseids, derives its identity from Orion the Hunter, a dazzling equatorial constellation.

But there is a hiatus, separating the two peaks. “After a busy period from late July to mid-August,” Kronk avers, “things quiet down during late August”.

Yet the sky is never dull, on a clear, dark night. So, in case your well-laid Perseids plans go awry (due, most likely, to cloud cover!), take comfort in knowing that all may not be lost.

Nature has provided a security blanket—a convenient upturn in sporadic activity and an array of minor meteor showers, as stand-ins.

SPA concurs, that while meteor watchers tend to overlook September, “it is around this time of the year that sporadic… activity peaks and a number of minor… showers are also active”.

Among minor exhibitions, the Society singles out the Alpha Aurigids (August 25th to September 10th) and the September Perseids (5th to 21st), in the constellations Auriga (the Charioteer) and Perseus.

Be apprised though, that neither of these showers have an equatorial radiant. And that organization like SPA, IMO and AMS are posting primarily for observers in the northerly latitudes of U.K. and U.S.A.

Closer to home, is the Piscids, easily visible in equatorial Pisces. Tables of the U.S. Saguaro Astronomy Club, project a possible October 7th peak of 15 meteors hourly—very productive, for a minor shower.

The Saguaro tables are skimpy on detail and background. But with 43 entries of major and minor showers, this concisely composed list is certainly worth consulting.

Organizers of meteor hangouts, in which new observers are involved, are ill-advised to let everything ride on minor displays. Neophytes tend to tune out, when the action is too slow.

Initiates have found though, that the risk of disappointment is reduced, in the second half of the year—when a higher incidence of sporadic meteors augments the poor output of minor showers.

“For the Northern Hemisphere,” Wes Stone affirms (Basic Meteor Observing Information), “there is a general pattern of lower rates during the first half of the year and higher rates during the second half…”

Elucidating, AMS projects a steady rise in the rate of random meteors—starting around March-April—with a September spike of 4-to-8 evening and 8-to-16 twilight flashes, per hour.

This spike might be thought of as a booster, that lifts the 2017 meteor season into a flourishing trajectory, with a succession of majors kicking in thereafter.

The first of these is Orionids—the second annual shower (along with Eta Aquariids) that occurs when Earth collides with orbiting debris from comet 1P/Halley.

A ZHR of 20, makes the Orionids—October 4nd thru November 14th—a junior sibling, compared with Eta’s “50”. Nevertheless, it promises a flurry of very visible flashes, above Nigeria, especially on the 21st.

Astronomers generally reject astrology. But no one seems to have told Taurus the Bull or Leo the Lion—two zodiacal constellations with a high celestial profile, particularly among meteor enthusiasts!

Taurus serves as the visual locus for a couple of weak showers, the Southern and Northern Taurids. To find the radiants, just look for Aldebaran, the “bull’s” reddish orange “eye”.

There is no sharp spike, as such, says SPA, “although the Southern Taurids tend to be most active around mid-October and the Northern Taurids… in the first half of November”.

Typically, the two displays—derived from Comet Encke—don’t have a lot of flare. Yet there’s more to marvel at than “peaks,” Space.Com’s Elizabeth Howell cautions: So, don’t play the Taurids cheap.

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