Alpha Centaurid Meteor Shower – Meteor Spotted Across Trinidad

At approximately 8:20 PM Tuesday 9th February, 2021, a meteor was reported seen from Maracas/St. Joseph and Point Fortin. According to the eyewitness, they heard the meteor sizzle while changing color from white to green.

Typically, as meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the rock heats up to extreme temperatures and burns up. The bright burning is sometimes detected as lightning by the GOES-16 Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). This was not the case for this meteor entry.

However, this meteor and all other meteors we’ll be seeing with the forecast clear skies will be associated with the Alpha Centaurids meteor shower, which is ongoing.

Note this this meteor sighting was not the passage of the International Space Station, which was spotted across T&T’s skies at 6:52 PM.

The International Space Station passes Sirius tonight – Time: approx:6:52 pm,. Orion is at the top of photo

Posted by Varma Ratan on Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What is the Alpha Centaurid Meteor Shower?

The alpha Centaurids is a meteor shower in the constellation Centaurus, peaking in early February each year. The average magnitude is around 2.5, with a peak of about three meteors an hour.

They have been observed since 1969, with a single possible recorded observation in 1938. 

The radiant is currently located at 13:54 (208) -58. This position lies in southeastern Centaurus, 3 degrees northwest of the 1st magnitude star known as Hadar (beta Centauri). Due to the southern declination of this radiant, these meteors are not well seen in the northern hemisphere.

Where Do Meteors Come From?

As the Earth travels through leftover comet or astroid debris, we see "fireballs" or meteors streaking through the night sky as the debris burns up upon entry into the atmosphere. In the Orionid Meteor Shower, this debris is leftover from Halley's Comet. Image: Accuweather
As the Earth travels through leftover comet or astroid debris, we see “fireballs” or meteors streaking through the night sky as the debris burns up upon entry into the atmosphere. In the Orionid Meteor Shower, this debris is leftover from Halley’s Comet. Image: Accuweather

Meteors come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When comets come around the sun, the dust they emit gradually spreads into a dusty trail around their orbits. Every year the Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere, where they disintegrate to create fiery and colorful streaks in the sky.

The a-Centaurid’s Peak

Meteor showers are very predictable events, so astronomers know exactly when you have the best chance of seeing them.

The alpha Centaurids are active from February 3rd-20th, with maximum activity occurring on February 9th.

Current hourly rates are expected to be less than 1 as seen from the northern hemisphere, where Trinidad and Tobago is located, and near 3 as seen from the mid-southern hemisphere. These meteors are best seen near 05:00 LST (4:46 AM local time) when the radiant lies highest above the horizon. At 56 km/sec (or 201,600 KM/H). the alpha Centaurids would produce mostly swift meteors

Conditions for Viewing

You can look up at the night sky mainly toward the early morning at 4:46 AM, trying to catch a glimpse of a meteor.

But, there are a few impediments for viewing in Trinidad and Tobago.

Firstly, light pollution is a major issue in most populated areas across Western and Northern Trinidad and the Western half of Tobago. Unfortunately, there is little you can do about this beyond traveling into darker areas such as parts of Northern Coastal Trinidad or Eastern and Southern parts of the island.

While few passing clouds are possible, mostly clear nights are forecast for Tuesday into Wednesday and Wednesday into Thursday

More good news is that the moon is approaching the new moon phase, meaning the night sky is nearly completely dark, eliminating at least one light source for skygazers and astronomers.

It’s Meteors – Not an Asteroid to Comet

Down-to-earth Journey of a Meteor Image: Space.com
Down-to-earth Journey of a Meteor Image: Space.com

It may be self-explanatory, as it is literally in the name of the shower, but the “shooting stars” you may see in the skies over the next several nights are meteors.

The terminology of these space objects matter, as a meteorite would have impacts to land, while a meteor does not.

Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between a meteor and a meteorite or an asteroid, meteoroid or comet? Here are the answers to all your questions regarding Meteor Terminology. Image: Vincent Perlerin/AMS

Meteor and meteorite strikes are more common than you might think. Dust-grain size meteoroids strike the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly, but they often go unnoticed. Meteoroids between a millimeter and a centimeter burn up in the atmosphere and appear to us as shooting stars.

Larger strikes are less common—a one-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth once each year on average and would reach the ground as smaller debris, while a 100-meter meteoroid strikes the Earth approximately every 10,000 years, according to a Tufts University fact sheet. Meteoroids over 1 kilometer hitting Earth are catastrophic events that occur every 1 million years on average.

Meteoroids do not discriminate where they land, nor where they enter the earth’s atmosphere. Hence, it is well within the possibility that events such as this could happen across Trinidad, Tobago, or any other Caribbean islands.

But medium-size strikes can be dramatic spectacles—and in some cases, dangerous. The Chelyabinsk meteor that struck southern Russia in February 2013 blew out windows and caused indirect injuries to almost 1,500 people.

Tips for Viewing

via EarthSky.org

1. Realize that this shower rises gradually to its peak. Few meteor showers are a one-night event. You could start tonight!

2. Be aware of the time of moonset each night. As much as possible, in the weeks between now and the peak, you’ll want to be out looking after moonset. 

3. Watch in the hours before dawn Most meteor showers are best after midnight, and the Orionids are no exception. After midnight, the part of Earth you’re standing on has turned into the meteor stream, which means the radiant point for the shower will be above your horizon.

4. Avoid city lights. This should go without saying, but just a reminder. A wide-open area – a field or a lonely country road – is best if you’re serious about watching meteors.

5. Camp! Nothing beats a set-up before the night begins. Of course, you’ll never see as many meteors in the evening as you will after midnight, but – if you are watching during the evening hours – you might catch an earthgrazer, which is a slow-moving and long-lasting meteor, traveling horizontally across your sky. Earthgrazers might be seen even in bright moonlight. They tend to be seen in the late evening or around midnight.

6. Make yourself comfortable. Sprawl out upon a reclining lawn chair, with an open view of the sky. Bring along a blanket or sleeping bag. Your eyes can take as long as 20 minutes to adapt to the dark, so give yourself at least an hour of observation time.

7. Watch with friend or friends, and try facing in different directions so that if someone sees a meteor, that person can call out – “meteor!” – to the rest.

8. Notice the meteors’ speeds and colors, and watch for meteor trains.  Orionid meteors are known for their brightness and their speed. These meteors are fast—they travel at about 148,000 mph into the Earth’s atmosphere. A meteor train is a persistent glow in the air, left by some meteors after they have faded from view. Trains are caused by luminous ionized matter left in the wake of this incoming space debris. They linger for a moment or two after the meteor has gone.

9. Embrace the night. We hear people bubble with excitement about seeing meteors in all sorts of conditions – moon or no moon – city lights or no city lights. The Perseids, in particular, tend to have a lot of fireballs. And so, camp out and make a night of it! At the end of the Perseid shower, look for Orion. As dawn breaks, this bright constellation will be ascending in the east before dawn. Read more.

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