For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-alpha-monocerotids
Astronomy Alert! Researchers are predicting a possible meteor storm this Thursday–Friday night, 21–22 November 2019, between 04:30–05:00 GMT (that’s 11:30 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, U.S. Eastern Time). You and your homeschool students should definitely take a look and see what you can see.
This possible storm is associated with the annual Alpha Monocerotid meteor shower. The Alpha Monocerotids are very minor meteor shower each year, producing only a few meteors per hour above the usual random background level. This year, however, researchers believe the earth may pass almost directly through the thin ribbon of dust left behind by the meteors’ parent comet — a comet that has still not been identified. If that occurs, a theoretical maximum of up to 400 meteors per hour may cross the sky. (That is an estimated theoretical maximum, a value that actual observers on earth will probably not see.)
Keep in mind that this is a prediction: it may prove to be correct, or it may not. That’s a top homeschool science lesson right there. (If you have advanced high school science students in your homeschool who want to be comet-predictors one day, send them to the library and invite them to learn all about the mathematics of conic sections — Dewey Decimal 516.2.) As with all natural phenomena, there’s only one thing you can be absolutely sure of: if you don’t look, you won’t see.
Here’s some background from Sky & Telescope this week:
“What’s rarer than seeing a unicorn? How about a unicorn spitting meteors at the rate of 400 per hour? You’ll have an opportunity to see it for yourself on Thursday night, November 21–22, when the obscure Alpha Monocerotid shower could produce upwards of 400 meteors per hour from a radiant near the star Procyon, a star near the constellation Monoceros, the unicorn. Even more amazing, the outburst is expected to last only a half-hour.
“Peter Jenniskens, a senior research scientist with the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center, along with Esko Lyytinen of the Finnish Fireball Network, have been keeping tabs on the shower for years. During outbursts, such as those that occurred in 1925 and 1935, activity reached meteor-storm levels with a zenithal hourly rate (ZHR) of more than 1,000. Activity rose to near-storm levels again in 1985 and 1995 with ZHRs around 700 and 400. ZHR is an idealized number based on how many meteors a single observer would see if the radiant were overhead in a dark sky during shower maximum.
“The source of the Alpha Monocerotids is unknown, but the stream’s orbital characteristics point to a long-period comet with a period of about 500 years. This nameless visitor deposited a dense, narrow ribbon of debris in the distant past with a half-width of only around 55,000 kilometers, equal to the distance from the center of Earth to the geostationary satellite belt.
“Jenniskens and Lyytninen expect Earth to barrel through the swarm of cometary dust bunnies on the night of November 21–22, centered on 4:50 Universal Time on November 22nd (11:50 p.m. EST on November 21st). Circumstances are nearly identical to the 1995 outburst when the ZHR briefly reached 400.“ (Sky & Telescope)
You’ll want to face generally to the east and south in as dark a location as you can find, with the expected focal period being between 11:30 p.m. and midnight U.S. Eastern Time. The radiant should be about 30–40º above the horizon in eastern North America, but only right at the horizon in the western states and provinces, where viewing won’t be as good (although it will still be worth checking). If a significant outburst occurs, it may be brief, lasting as little as fifteen minutes — so keep your eyes on the sky!
What other astronomical alignments and celestial wonders have you examined in your homeschool this Cygnus Term? 😊
❡ Choose something like a star: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Your recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas (riverhouses.org/books) both contain charts of the constellations that will show you the all the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌠
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some easy and comfortable homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🔭