2018 Andromedids: ‘Surprise’ Meteor Shower Peaks This Week


The Andromedids are a minor meteor stream occurring toward the end of the year. As Universe Today points out, “chances are, you’ve never heard of the Andromedids.” But these particular shooting stars were all the rage about 130 years ago.

The Andromedid meteor shower originates from the defunct Comet 3D/Biela, a period comet that was tracked sporadically for 80 years starting in 1772. The comet circled the sun once every 6.6 years and was last sighted in 1852.

While Comet 3D/Biela ceased to appear, its remains can still be seen on the night sky 166 years after it vanished. These are the Andromedids, visible from Earth in early December, or each time our planet passes through the trail of cosmic debris left behind by the long-gone comet.

Also known as the Bielids, a moniker inspired by the comet’s name, these meteors have been responsible for exquisite celestial displays up until the end of the 19th century — all of them occurring in a seven-year cycle.

Although their more recent appearances have generally been modest and obscure, the Andromedids produced sensational meteor storms in the past, lighting up the sky with thousands of shooting stars. For instance, the 1885 Andromedid meteor shower delivered a staggering 15,000 shooting stars. After a period of seven years, the Andromedids shined again in 1892, when they sent 6,000 meteors streaking across the sky.

Illustration of the Andromedid meteor shower seen over France in 1872.
Illustration of the Andromedid meteor shower seen over France in 1872.Featured image credit: Amedee GuilleminWikimedia Commons

Despite falling into obscurity for the most part of the 20th century, the Andromedids made a strong comeback seven years ago. The 2011 Andromedid meteor shower rained down at rates of 50 shooting stars per hour — an impressive performance considering that this year’s Perseids, one of the best annual meteor showers, displayed up to 70 meteors per hour, as reported by the Inquisitr.

Seven years later, the 2018 Andromedids promise to put on yet another impressive show, reports the American Meteor Society.

“This display is not expected to be as strong as the 2011, which had an estimated zenith hourly rate of 50. Yet any sightings of these extremely slow meteors would be a treat and a link to past history.”

The 2018 Andromedids will make their appearance later this week, peaking on the night of December 5. Forbes calls it a “surprise meteor shower,” given that these normally “ignored” meteors “may trigger a lot of activity” this year.

The Andromedids are active throughout the first week of December and generally peak on the second or third night of the month. This year, however, the meteor shower will have its most busy night a little later than usual.

“Luckily, the moon will be in the morning sky nearly all of this period, allowing an unhindered view of possible activity.”

The Andromedids seem to radiate from the direction of the Andromeda and Cassiopeia constellations, hence their name. In fact, the meteor shower is currently listed as the “December Phi Cassiopeiids” by the International Meteor Organization.

In a study published a few years ago in the Astronomical Journal, researchers pinpointed the dates of the most exciting returns of the Andromedids.

“Our simulations indicate weak to moderate activity in 2001, 2008, 2018, 2027, 2034 and 2041, as well as moderate to strong activity in 2004, 2011, 2023 and 2036,” the astronomers wrote in their paper.

Moreover, the 2023 Andromedids are announced as a spectacular treat for stargazers and are estimated to reach impressive rates of 200 meteors per hour.

After the peak of the Andromedids, another meteor shower will grace us with its presence next week. As the Inquisitr recently reported, the Geminids peak on December 14 and are expected to produce up to 120 shooting stars per hour.