August 31, 2013
Rare Aurigid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight

The Aurigid meteor shower is expected to make a rare appearance before dawn on September 1. While it may not be as visible as the Perseids earlier this month, it could still invoke awe in people living in rural areas.

Earth entered the Comet Kiess debris field on Saturday and will only be in it until Sunday. The meteor shower it produces is so rare it has only been seen four other times.

Viewers were treated to a small number of meteors in 1935, 1986, 1994, and 2007, according to Yahoo! News. Comet Kiess is also a "long period" comet, meaning it takes between 1,800 and 2,000 years to orbit around the Sun.

Particles left behind by the icy wanderer can create very bright and strangely colored meteors that streak across the sky. Earth Sky notes that the best time to watch the shower will be in the predawn hours on Sunday in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Aurigid meteor shower's radiant is in central Auriga, a constellation in the northern sky. It lies two degrees north of the third magnitude star Theta Aurigae.

Because the moon reaches its new phase on Thursday, it will be in a small crescent shape during the shower. For that reason, the meteor shower is being emphasized this year, while it has not been in previous years.

Unlike the very busy Perseids, the Aurigids are much slower. Viewers tonight can expect to see about five meteors per hour. If they are in a rural area just before dawn, they can expect to see up to 14 per hour. Dark skies and little to no light pollution are key to viewing the incredibly fast meteors.

As with all skywatching, it is best to give your eyes time to adjust. For most people, it can take 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust completely. Because of the history of the Aurigid meteor shower, it could take that long before you spot one streaking across the Earth's atmosphere.

[Image by Jeremie Vaubaillon, Caltech, NASA via Wikimedia Commons]