Rocket Burns Up Over BC-Alberta Border Feb 24

Bright Slow-moving Disintegrating Object:

23 Feb 2015 at 10:56pm MST/9:56 PST

Shown above is an animated GIF of the rocket stage disintegrating as it passed over the Cranbrook, BC meteor-cam site. The Kelowna BC meteor-cam site caught a glimpse of it as well. The video frames displayed are 2 seconds apart over a 33 second period. It took a total of 83 seconds to pass overhead, coming in low like a comet over the Southeastern horizon, and leaving in four trailing chunks over the Northeastern horizon.

It was a highly visible fireball, with a long glowing tail with dozens of pieces sparkling and falling off. Many people in Cranbrook reported seeing it, phoning the radio station and enquiring at the airport. At first some wondered if it was a burning jet aircraft.

Neil Zeller in Calgary caught some good photos of it there. Check out this link here: Global News Article 24Feb2015

Rick Nowell


Reply-To: Ted Molczan
Re-entry of 2014-088B seen from U.S.A. and Canada

I awoke to a message from Joseph Remis with news that the re-entry of 2014-088B / 40363 had been seen from the western U.S. and Canada. It was stage 3 of the CZ-4B rocket that launched Yaogan Weixing 26 on 2014 Dec 27 UTC.

USSTRATCOM’s apparently final TIP message, issued at 11:15 UTC, reports the decay at 5:54 UTC +/- 7 min, near 42.3 N, 111.6 W. That corresponds to descent to 10 km, the approximate toe of the debris footprint (should any have survived to impact Earth). Based on the sightings, the final descent was farther north, well into Canada, but within the stated time uncertainty.

As I write, more than 140 observations have been reported to the AMS site:

The object was north-bound, descending from a 97.3 deg orbit. There are confirmed sightings from Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta. The most southerly observation I have noted so far was from Scottsdale, Arizona; the most northerly from Didsbury, Alberta. That spans nearly 3000 km of the descent.

Map of Rocket Path_cropped
Map of Rocket Re-entry Path

I have plotted a large sample of the AMS sighting locations, along with the ground track of 14088B:

The underlying Google Earth kmz file is here:

Joseph provided a link to a video here: KSL 5 News in Utah

Report from Ted Molczan

Allsky founder Dick Spalding died Feb 8

Father of Meteor Allsky Networks, Richard Spalding died Feb 8.

[Excerpts from an article by Tom Dorman.]

Dick passed away Wed, Feb 8 2017, after battling multiple heart issues this past year.  Dick was the Founder of the SkySentinel Allsky Network (Sandia National Laboratories) and was instrumental in setting up and running the meteor fireball camera Systems in the U.S. and around the world.  Allsky camera systems can now be bought off the shelf but back in the 1990’s Dick was giving the camera systems to willing amateurs in support of the North America fireball network.  (Locally he sent Allsky camera systems to a number of nodes in the BC Meteor network in Canada in 2011. )  Dick gave graciously of his time and always was willing to answer questions from even lowly amateurs such as ourselves.

These early camera systems gave a better understanding of meteors, fireball events, meteor showers and their origins. Some of the early fireball cameras that Dick gave out to many amateurs were through DOD grants but many were paid for out of his own money.


Lindley Johnson, Planetary Defense Officer at NASA wrote: “He was a great man as well as an insightful scientist and a hero to us all, albeit largely unsung. It is nice to see this latest paper come out and know that he was active to the end in uncovering the mysteries of nature. He will of course be greatly missed, but I hope he was heartened in his last days by seeing us finally making progress in getting bolide reports instituted into our warning infrastructure. In his memory, we will redouble our efforts to make full use of what he had shown us of what is possible to better understand the science of natural objects entering our atmosphere in service of better protection of all human populations and our collective society.”

Source: NASA CAMS:

Leonid Meteor Shower and Northern Lights 2014 Nov 17.9

The LEONID METEOR SHOWER rapidly approaches us on Sunday night/ Monday morning, Nov 16/17, when the Earth passes through dust and ice particles from comet Tempel-Tuttle. Meteor counts are estimated at around 15 per hour this year (or one meteor every 4 minutes). The crescent Moon is below the Eastern horizon until around 1am, so the skies will be fairly dark. The Leonid meteors are travelling swiftly at 71 km/s which can create fast green ionization trails 70 to 120km high in the upper atmosphere.

Leo, the meteor radiant, rises about midnight (can you see the backwards question mark framing the head and mane of Leo the Lion in the constellation photo above, with Regulus as the dot?). Big bright Jupiter is a white dot in front of Leo (not shown here). The higher Leo rises, the more meteors to be seen. Thus, the best time is after midnight until about 6am. The actual peak is Monday Nov 17 at 22:00 hr universal time or (minus 7) that’s 3pm Mountain Standard Time, or 2pm Pacific.

Crescent Moon

The crescent Moon rises at 1am, just under the belly of Leo, which gives a glow which drowns out the fainter meteors.

Here’s some notes from the IAU, The International Astronomical Union:


S. Nakano, Sumoto, Japan; and D. Asher, Armagh Observatory, write that it will be scientifically interesting to see if two enhanced streams of Leonid meteors can be detected — both predicted to be at low levels if observable — around Nov. 17.06-17.07 UT (due to material ejected from comet 55P in 1833 and seen in 1867, predicted by Nakano and Y. Kosai) and Nov. 21.3-21.4 (material from 1567, predicted by M. Maslov and J. Vaubaillon). The main stream of Leonid meteors is expected to peak around Nov. 17.9 (with full-width at half-maximum of a couple of days, via Maslov).
(C) Copyright 2014 CBAT 2014 November 16 (CBET 4016) Daniel W. E. Green

Chance of seeing NORTHERN LIGHTS:

Aurora Nov 15 2014
Aurora seen from Wasa BC on Nov 15

The NOAA spaceweather site mentions there was a medium M3 solar flare on Nov 15, and predicts some Northern Light activity on Nov 15, dying down by the 17. So you may also see the Aurora to the North if you’re at higher latitudes. The photo below shows a red/green Aurora spike seen against the Big Dipper stars, with the Skookumchuck Pulp Mill amber lights illuminating a plume of steam drifting up from it’s stacks, glowing in the woodsmoke low behind the tree. Taken on Saturday night, Nov 15, from Wasa BC (in South-eastern BC).

Aurora over Skookumchuck Nov 15

Like meteors, the aurora occurs in the upper atmosphere, where gas molecules are hit by electrons from the Sun. The lower edge at 80 to 100 km is where nitrogen atoms glow crimson; midway between 100 and 200km, oxygen gas glows green, and nitrogen glows blue; and above that from 100 to 250 km, oxygen gas glows a dim red.

Fall 2016 Meteor Showers

Meteor Showers in Oct, Nov, Dec 2016.

**The Geminids are the best at 120 meteors per hour, are on 14 Dec.  *The Orionids (21 Oct) and the Leonids (17 Nov) both at 15 meteors per hour are middling.  The Northern Taurids on 12 Nov at 5 meteors per hour aren’t as frequent but they produce many bright fireballs, and flashes on the Moon.  However, the bright Moon will spoil much of the meteor showers this year.  Meteor velocities can range from about 11 km/s (very slow) to 72 km/s (very fast). 40 km/s is roughly medium speed.  (That’s still pretty fast. For comparison, the International space station orbits at 8km/s, and goes around the Earth in 90 minutes.)  These meteors travel across the sky very swiftly, with “trains”.  Look for a series of small explosions in the meteor trail as the rock breaks up. Some leave a luminous train of particles that last for a few seconds or even a minute. Colours can be yellow to brilliant green. You may hear a delayed supersonic rumble (5 minutes later) if a fireball comes close overhead and a chirp of descending pitch on a shortwave radio, from the meteors ion plasma.

 *Fri 21 Oct: The ORIONIDs: Active: Oct 02–Nov 07 with maximum on Friday Oct 21;  The zenith hourly rate (ZHR) is  15 meteors/hr; with a fast speed of 66 km/s, the remnants of Comet Halley.  This year is likely a typical shower at 15 meteors per hour.   This can vary from year to year, with a 12 year cycle of strong and weak peaks ranging from 14 to 31 meteors per hour; and another factor which can produce outbursts of 70 meteors/hr.  The Moon will rise around midnight at its last quarter (65%-illuminated) which bright glow will drown out the fainter meteors.  The meteors should radiate out from the North part of Orion the Hunter, by his club, on the Eastern horizon.  Since the Moon is located quite close to the radiant at this time it will spoil all optical observations.

 These meteors consist of falling ice pellets, dust and sand debris encountered as the Earth crosses the orbit of Halley’s Comet, coming in fast at 66 km per second. This debris moves parallel to itself along the orbit of the comet, thus from our Earth perspective it looks like they radiate out from a single point, the “radiant”. The Orionids all appear to radiate out from Orion, the streaks looking like huge bicycle spokes with the centre hub at Orion’s shoulder.  They are visible coming from the Eastern horizon when Orion rises after midnight towards 1 to 6am. The half of the meteors that go below the horizon won’t be seen. You should be out of town where it’s dark to see them best. Don’t look towards the East, these trails will look short due to foreshortening.  Instead look 90 degrees away, either straight overhead, or to the North, away from the Moon’s bright light.

 Sat 12 Nov: The Northern TAURIDs: (Active: Oct 20 to Dec 10, max on 12 Nov).  The zenith hourly rate (ZHR) is  just 5 meteors/hour; velocity a slow 29km/s. The Earth passes through a debris stream left by Comet Encke, source of the Taurid Meteor Shower.  Taurid meteors tend to be larger than average: they are bright, with many fireballs. They also penetrate deeper into the Earth’s atmosphere than other meteors. For example, Orionids typically burn up at altitudes of 93 km, but the Taurids make it down to 68 km. Some get even lower — meteor cameras have tracked 1-inch Northern Taurid meteors down to 58 km.


Moon Impacts: Because the Taurid Meteors can be 1 inch bullets of ice moving at 29 km/s (which is a hypersonic mach 88), they produce bright flashes of light when they strike the Moon. Taurid lunar impacts are visible with the college’s 10″ or 11” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes as small flickers of light, in dark regions.  However, since the moon is 94% illuminated on Nov 12, there’s not much dark area to look into.  But sometimes you can see brighter flashes in the illuminated area as well.  Some telescopes are fitted with video cameras and count how many meteors hit the Moon overall.  One impact imaged on Sep 2013 was so hot it glowed white hot for 8 seconds–it was estimated to be a 40kg rock.

 *Thu 17 Nov: The LEONIDs Active: Nov 06–Nov 30 Nov 17; Maximum: Thu Nov 17; ZHR = 15 meteors/hr; V = 71 km/s.  These arrive just three days after the full Moon, which will make it hard to see them.  There are a lot of fast green meteors in the Leonids.

 Mon 28 Nov: The November Orionids.  Active: November 14–December 6; Maximum: Monday Nov 28;  ZHR = 3 meteors/hr; V = 44 km/s

**Wed 14 Dec: The GEMINIDS; active Dec 04–Dec 17; Maximum: Dec 14; ZHR = 120 meteors/hr; V= 35 km/s.

The best and most reliable meteor shower of the year are the Geminids at 120 meteors per hour on Wednesday, December 14.  Except we have the Full Moon on the same night to spoil them.  The Geminid meteors are debris from an extinct comet (called 3200 Phaethon) coming in at 35 km/second.  (That’s a medium speed for a meteor.  Other meteor shower velocities range from 11 to 72 km/s.) The Geminids come in various colours–65% being white, 26% yellow, and the remaining 9% blue, red and green.  The meteors are the sand, dust and gravel remains of an Apollo asteroid (3200 Phaethon), coming in at medium speeds of 35km/second.    

Colourful meteor here taken by Robert Ede in Invermere, against the Milky Way to the South.  Note the colour in the trail starts green and turns red.  

 Fireball Colours: Green can be caused by copper or magnesium metal burning. Other colours seen are yellow, orange and red.  Iron burns yellow (eg. steel wool), silicates burn red and sodium burns orange.

 Ionization trails: Sometimes the wakes behind them can be ionized oxygen emitting green light. That occurs at higher altitudes where the air pressure is low. The higher collision energies make oxygen produce a greenish glow, nitrogen emits blue and red, at the lower energies a dim red. Just like the colours in the Northern Lights. So, fast meteors would have more energy and produce more greens and blues, slow meteors would have lower energy and produce reds.

 Which direction is best to look? Where it’s darkest. As you can see in these composite photos from last year, the fireballs scatter all over the sky, radiating out from Gemini to the East. But when you watch the area around Gemini, the streaks there are shorter and slower moving. These fisheye photos show the whole sky as a circle: North is up, South down, East to the left, and West to right.


All the brighter Geminid Meteors during the night of 14 Dec 2014.   The photos were taken with the College of the Rockies meteor cam in Cranbrook, BC. 


It is thought the Geminids originated from an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon, discovered in 1983.  It may be a small 5km fragment from the 544km main belt asteroid Pallas



Perseid Meteor Shower Thursday 11 Aug 2016

The college meteor camera is already seeing more bright meteors zipping overhead. The Perseid meteor shower started July 17, ends Aug 24 but peaks on Thursday night, August 11 and Friday morning Aug 12. If it’s cloudy Thursday, note that Wednesday night and Friday night will also be very active.

This year the Earth will cross the centre of the comet debris; so we should get the full show. We should also get three additional early peaks: Jupiter’s gravity has shifted some debris; and we’ll see debris from the 1862 and 1479 comet ejection trails to hit this year. Peak estimates (by Esko Lyytinen and Mikhail Maslov) are 150 to 160 meteors per hour, about three per minute.

There are four peaks in two waves; we’ll miss the first wave since it hits Thursday in daylight; and the last wave which hits in Friday’s morning light. But the whole night should be pretty constant at 100 meteors/hour. Best seeing times in the East Kootenays would be after midnight once the Moon sets (low in Scorpius) and the skies darken; continuing until dawn at 5am. We’ll miss the last wave at 7am. But these peak times are estimates, we can hope they arrive during darkness instead.

  (Mountain Daylight Savings Time-- minus 1 hr for Pacific) 1.  Thurs Aug 11 at 4:34pm [1862 comet trail] 2.  Aug 11 at 5:24pm [1479 comet trail] 3.  Aug 11 from 6 to 10pm [Jupiter shifts] 4.  Fri Aug 12 from 7 to 9am [Centre of comet orbit].  

It takes the Earth a week to pass through all the ice and dust from comet Swift-Tuttle. The shower will gradually taper off and end by Aug 24. The meteors are travelling at a speed of 59 km/s when they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Their trails will all point to Perseus (if it’s a Perseid). The closer they are, the smaller their trail: and the further away, the longer the trail. Look for their colours—at high speed they ionize the air to a green; then that fades to yellow, orange, red as it slows down. If they disrupt and flare, you may see green/bluish wide streaks that glow afterward for a second or two (mainly it’s water ice, but there may be metals present like copper or cobalt).

Allsky Cam Meteor Images Aug 11-12
Allsky Cam Meteor Images Aug 11-12

Where to look? The composite photo above shows the entire sky, and all the meteors that fell on 11 and 12 Aug 2015 over Cranbrook; taken by our college meteor camera. Perseus is the constellation to the North East (middle left side of the photo). Normally there are fewer meteors seen straight overhead, since there is less volume of atmosphere overhead. There are slightly more meteors seen high to the West around Hercules and above the handle of the big dipper; since the meteor trails are longer there, and the meteors skim lower in a greater volume of atmosphere. That’s where I aim my cameras. (Or where it’s darkest, away from the Moon or city streetlight glow).

Allsky Captures Stacked for 13 Aug 2015
Allsky Captures Stacked for 13 Aug 2015

Some of the meteors seen will be from the k-Cygnids running from August 6–19. These peak on August 18 at 3 meteors per hour. They show a number of slow falling fireballs moving at 25km/second.

Small Fireball from Cygnus
Small k-Cygnid Fireball Crossing Cygnus

This photo shows a k-Cygnid meteor crossing through Cygnus the Swan as seen during the last Perseid shower of 2015 (it’s tail is short and it points from Cygnus). Photo taken with a Nikon D100, Tamron 28mm f/2.5 lens, 30 second exposure. I outlined Cygnus in yellow against the Milky Way. The bright star Deneb is the tail at top, and Albireo is the beak at bottom. Photo credit: Rick Nowell.

Starmap of Northeast Sky with Perseus for 13Aug
Starmap of Northeast Sky with Perseus for 13Aug

While you’re out stargazing, here is a starmap showing the Perseus region of the sky, looking Northeast late after midnight in August. The Milky Way band (grey in the map) runs through Perseus; who is the Greek hero coming to rescue Andromeda (daughter of Cassiopeia) who is chained to the rocks. Look below the W of Cassiopeia (the Queen of Ethiopia). You should also see the great square of Pegasus, the winged horse to the right. If you have good eyes (or binoculars), you can spot the fuzzy cloud of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31 in the Map) just above Andromeda’s stick-figure knee. (Andromeda’s head is one corner of the square of Pegasus.) The big dipper, little dipper and Polaris are easy to locate to the left. (Starmap generated by Skyglobe software).

Note: to zoom in a picture or map and see the lines, right-click and open in new tab.

Northern Lights Flare of 7 May 2016

The strongest solar storm so far of 2016 hit us Saturday night at 10:48pm and again between 2 to 3am (according to our college meteor camera). The clear starry East Kootenay sky lit up with glowing curtains and spikes that reached a third of the way up from the Northern horizon.

Our meteor cam has some nifty video on it. And I zipped out of town and took some photos. I missed the best at 11pm, but got some shots at 11:45. But I packed up at 1:50 am, too soon. According to the meteor cam, if I had waited until 2:10 I would have got the big proton arc spiral. Later it died down to a green glow to the North that lasted all night. It was as bright outside as though the Moon was up.

Yet just before 2am, the whole North half of the sky was pulsating; with dim patches travelling from North to South, at about 2 cycles per second, like sheet lightning (I was getting a sore neck watching this over Ft. Steele, 15 km out of Cranbrook). Some kind of oscillation involving the trapped charge bouncing back and forth in the ionosphere, at right angles to the Earth’s magnetic field, creating waves of its own local magnetic field. Anyhow, at 2:10 the build-up must have discharged in a nice arc.


Shot from Ft. Steele hill, facing Northeast over Lakit Mountain. The W of the constellation Cassiopeia (Queen of Ethiopia) just above. Rippling, but just greens, no reds or blues. Photos taken with a Nikon and a 28mm f/2.5 lens, with 6 to 15 second exposures.


Looking at the Western edge of the glowing cloud, groups of spikes. Perseus in background. Pale traces of a narrow vertical streamer west of that.


Even Fisher Peak to the East was backlit by rippling bands.


Pine trees and the Steeples silhouetted from Eager Hill outside of Cranbrook.

7 May 2016: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a 48 hour magnetic storm watch indicating a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or a high speed solar wind stream emanating from the Sun may be heading towards Earth. These fast moving charged particles can cause a Northern Lights display.

The current Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) is 5.33 — STORM LEVEL, peaking over the Northern BC and Alberta border.


Fernie had it even better, since they saw blues as well. Facing North from Fernie BC, Cassiopeia above. Sent by Sasha Prystae of Kimberley.

Electrons cause most of the glow. The dim red glow at the top of the curtain occurs above 200 km, when fast moving electrons hit low-pressure oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. The middle green is from glowing oxygen molecules between 100 and 200 km. Below 100 km, nitrogen atoms will glow a dim purplish colour and blue. Below that, the air pressure is too high and no effect is seen. NorthernLights_Vancouver_ProtonArc_Vanexusphotography_7May2016.JPG

This is a brief spiraling proton arc pillar hitting the Pacific Ocean North of Vancouver in Porteau Cove Provincial Park taken by Karina and Amir around 11pm Saturday, and another at 2am. Wow. See for a video of that.

Those vertical spiraling curtains are likely ionized oxygen atoms corkscrewing down around the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

This was the strongest flare of 2016 so far. Reportedly, as the Earth moved in its orbit, it crossed a wrinkle in the Sun’s magnetic field, where it reversed polarity briefly. This briefly buffeted the Earth’s protective magnetic field, which let in a gust of protons and electrons.

Fireball Hits Near Canal Flats 20 Dec 2014

On the Hunt for rare rock after meteorite falls in December

University of Calgary geoscience professor asking for the public’s help.

A month after a spectacular fireball December 20, 2014, over the Rocky Mountains, University of Calgary researcher Alan Hildebrand is on a quest for rare meteorites.

In the early morning hours of December 20 a small piece of an asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere high above Canal Flats, British Columbia, headed northeastwards towards Calgary, Alberta. Although western B.C. and eastern Alberta were overcast, the fireball was seen and imaged over the region between the clouds in both provinces. One spectacular still image was luckily taken by Brett Abernethy who was out with a friend imaging the night sky over Mt. Rundle near Banff when the fireball blazed an 80 km-long trail across the sky (See attached figure 1). Brett says, “We were looking north when everything lit up and we turned to see the fireball. It broke into at least three pieces and turned bright orange before fading away. After the initial shock I remembered that I was exposing a shot during the fireball and was overjoyed to discover that the shot was not overexposed.” Brett alerted the Calgary Herald to the event, who published his image which stimulated on-line discussion from other eyewitnesses.

In his search for more information about the fireball Hildebrand contacted Rick Nowell at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, B.C., who recorded it with his Sandia all-sky video camera through patchy clouds, and was able to correctly mark the fireball’s start time to precisely 00:25:00. With this accurate time, another all-sky still image was obtained from the University of Calgary’s Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO). With these additional images in hand, he and his team were able to triangulate its location in the sky.

“It was very interesting to see how precisely a fireball path could be located just from two pictures taken more than 100 km away. We probably know where it was, start to finish within 100 metres,” says Lincoln Hanton, a recent University of Calgary graduate working with Hildebrand. The video recorded in Cranbrook and the fireball’s trajectory also show that it was a relatively slow entry velocity which favours the fall of meteorites.

Hildebrand says the fireball shows extraordinary properties. “In the photo taken by Brett, the fireball becomes visible at approximately 100 km altitude, starts fragmenting at approximately 60 km, and has its last and biggest explosion at 43 km. Those altitudes are much higher than normal. That means the rock was likely a weak type of asteroid.”

Rare carbonaceous chondrite rock

Hildebrand says the apparent weakness displayed indicates that this rock was unusual, probably a carbonaceous chondrite, which is a specific type of stony meteorite that originates from the Outer Asteroid Belt. At that distance from the Sun water and carbon-bearing compounds condensed and mixed into asteroidal bodies. Carbonaceous chondrites represent only approximately three per cent of meteorites that fall on Earth.

“Eyewitness accounts indicate that meteorites fell after surviving the trip through the atmosphere; the estimated rock mass entering the atmosphere was about 100 kg, but the largest pieces on the ground are probably only 2 kg,” says Hildebrand. “The meteorites fell in a forested area of the upper White River valley. It’s a tough area to search.” (See Figure 2)

Map of Impact Area
Satellite Map of Impact Area

Hildebrand says with the possibility of such a rare find his team will do some searching in the spring and encourage any others who can travel safely in this relatively remote area to search as well. How you can help

Hildebrand and his team are eager to talk with anyone who saw the fireball from Canal Flats, Fairmont Hot Springs, or Elkford, B.C. He encourages property owners in that region to check security camera systems for any shadows cast by the fireball. Anyone who had a wildlife camera in the region is also asked to check that date and time for moving shadows. Contact the University of Calgary at 403-220-8969 or via email at

  Contact information: Brett Abernethy   403-620-6929 Lincoln Hanton     403-220-8969 Alan Hildebrand   403-220-2291 Rick Nowell       250-489-2751 ext 3585  

Figure 1: Brett Abernethy’s image of the Dec 20 fireball looking south over Mt. Rundle from near Johnson Lake. The fireball crossed the constellation of Orion and then began fragmenting where the trail brightens and broadens. Note the slight reddening at the fireball’s end as the surviving rock fragments slowed and cooled before falling to the ground. Image is a 40 second exposure taken with a Canon 5D Mark III with a wide angle Zeiss 21 mm lens which slightly compresses the vertical aspect of the image. (All rights reserved)

Figure 2: Satellite image of eastern British Columbia showing location of the fireball trajectory projected onto the ground and estimated meteorite fall area as a yellow ellipse. The end of the fireball was about 40 km east of Fairmont Hot Springs. An eyewitness in Canal Flats would have seen the fireball travel almost straight downwards in the sky. (Figure constructed on Google Earth base)

Geminid Meteor Shower 14 Dec 2015

The best and most reliable meteor shower of the year are the Geminids at 120 meteors per hour on early Monday December 14. The second best are the Quadrantids at 120/hr on January 4 but these last only for a few hours. The Perseids are better known, since they occur on August 13 when it’s nice and warm out. But they’re actually number three on the list at 100 meteors per hour.

Since the new Moon occurs on Dec 11, the sky will be dark so we should see even the fainter meteors. The peak should occur around 10am in the morning, Dec 14, persisting for 24 hours. But 2am is fine when the shower’s radiant point, Gemini, rises high in the sky to the East. The meteors are the sand, dust and gravel remains of an Apollo asteroid (3200 Phaethon), coming in at medium speeds of 35km/second. (That’s a medium speed for a meteor. Other meteor shower velocities range from 11 to 72 km/s.) The Geminids come in various colours–65% being white, 26% yellow, and the remaining 9% blue, red and green. They’re active from Dec 4 until Thursday Dec 17. Last night I saw a bright yellow tinted fireball zip across Orion crossing a quarter of the Southern sky, leaving a shorter glowing trail along the last third of it’s flight; and another fireball went across Taurus just two minutes later. Last night I saw a bright yellow tinted fireball zip across Orion crossing a quarter of the Southern sky, leaving a shorter glowing trail along the last third of it’s flight; and another fireball went across Taurus just two minutes later.

Which direction is best to look? Where it’s darkest. As you can see in these composite photos from last year, the fireballs scatter all over the sky, radiating out from Gemini to the East. But when you watch the area around Gemini, the streaks there are shorter and slower moving. These fisheye photos show the whole sky as a circle: North is up, South down, East to the left, and West to right.

Geminids from 15 Dec 2014 Stacked
Geminids during the night of 15 Dec 2014
These photos were taken from Cranbrook, BC with the College of the Rockies meteor cam.
Geminid Meteors Towards North and Big Dipper
Geminid Meteors Towards North and Big Dipper

Below is a starmap looking East around 11pm on Dec 14. Note Gemini the Twins rising due East, just left of Orion the Hunter. Look for two bright stars, Castor over top of the other, Pollux. Gemini the Twins used to be a benevolent guide for the ancient Sailers. In movies you sometimes hear old sailors exclaim “By Jiminy!”. Sirius is the very bright star along the SouthEastern horizon below Orion. Taurus the Bull is the “>” shape above Orion, with the red eye of Aldebaran. The Pleiades are a small fuzzy patch above that.

Starmap for 14 Dec 2015 Looking East
Starmap for 14 Dec 2015 Looking East

These pictures are pixelated to fit in this small window–right click and open image in a new tab to zoom in more.

Geminid Meteor Shower 14 Dec 2014

Geminid Meteor Shower Sun Dec 14 2014

One of the best meteor showers during the year are the Geminids, which occur annually on Dec 14. Earth enters the fringes of their orbit from Dec 4 until Dec 17. The peak of 120 meteors per hour, should be from Saturday noon Dec 13, until Sunday morning 10am Dec 14, 2014.

The skies were dark, since the Moon didn’t rise until after midnight. Although both nights it got cloudy around 1am where I am near Cranbrook, BC. The meteors were generally bright, medium fast speeds of 35km/s, and different colours. I saw white and red. This shower has some mass sorting, with small dust arriving the first day, followed by grains of sand, then pebbles a day later. It’s debris from a 5km diameter asteroid, 3200 Pheathon.

Dec 16 is also the peak for a smaller meteor shower, the Coma Berenicids, with a peak of 3 meteors per hour.

I took three Nikon cameras out. I goofed on one camera, I had it set for just ISO 1000. That captured two meteors in Ursa Minor, and that’s why they were so dim. The other two cameras were set at 3200 ISO, which is optimum. The max is 6400, but that can be snowy. The slight background brown glow is woodsmoke and thin cloud, the camera sensor shows haze like that. This was a Vivitar 28mm f/2.5 lens, hooded against the frost. All the tripods and camera equipment quickly frosted over at the -7 deg temperatures.

I was out again Sunday evening by Horseshoe Lake, with clouds over Orion. I got a hundred more photos and listened to coyotes howling nearby. The meteors were pretty nice still, I saw one every minute, some just out of the corners of my eye. Most were white falling parallel to the northern and southern horizon. Two I saw were moving slow, red in colour, on the far Western horizon.

The AllSky Meteor Cam at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook BC

AllSky Geminids Stack 11 Frames

This is the College All-sky meteor cam showing the eleven brightest Dec 15 meteors stacked on one frame, from 7pm until 2am when it clouded over. North at top of photo and East to the left. Two bright fireballs on the horizon! That trail of dots there is Jupiter rising. Some clumps of dots are just aircraft strobes.

AllSky Geminids Stack 11 Frames

And here’s the 11 meteor stack for Dec 14 from 9pm until 1:15am, when it clouded over. About the same each evening.

Geminid Meteor Streak And just for fun, here’s all the photos stacked from the camera watching Ursa Minor over a 43 minute period, taken with 30 second exposures, 28mm f/2.5 lens, 1000 ISO.

Geminids from Invermere By Robert Ede
Geminids from Invermere

This photo was taken facing South, showing Orion before the Moon rose, from Invermere by Robert Ede. He says: I saw some beauties. A few with smoke trails.