© Jacek Halicki 2016. Perseid meteor seen in 2016 from Poland.

Virginid meteor shower

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 (343 days ago)

Dominic Ford, Editor
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The Virginid meteor shower will reach its maximum rate of activity on 12 April 2017. Some shooting stars associated with the shower are expected to be visible each night from 7 April to 18 April.

Annual meteor showers arise when the Earth passes through streams of debris left behind by comets and asteroids. As pebble-sized pieces of debris collide with the Earth, they burn up at an altitude of around 70 to 100 km, appearing as shooting stars.

By determining the speed and direction at which the meteors impact the Earth, it is possible to work out the path of the stream through the Solar System and identify the body responsible for creating it. To date, however, the parent body responsible for creating the Virginid shower has not been identified.

Observing prospects

The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible is around 5 per hour (ZHR). However, this assumes a perfectly dark sky and that the radiant of the meteor shower is directly overhead. In practice, the number of meteors you are likely to see is lower than this, and can be calculated from the ZHR formula.

From Ashburn (click to change), the radiant of the shower will appear 35° above your south-eastern horizon at midnight. This means you may be able to see around 2 meteors per hour, since the radiant will be high in the sky, maximising the chance of seeing meteors.

The radiant of the Virginid meteor shower is at around right ascension 14h00m, declination 9°S, as shown by the green cross on the planetarium above. All of the meteors will appear to be travelling directly outward from this point, as indicated by the white lines drawn above.

The Moon will be 15 days old at the time of peak activity, and being so close to Full Moon will severely limit the observations that will be possible.

To see the most meteors, the best place to look is not directly at the radiant itself, but at any dark patch of sky which is around 30–40° away from it. It is at a distance of around this distance from the radiant that meteors will show reasonably long trails without being too spread out.

The sky on 12 April 2017
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

15-day old moon
Waning Gibbous


15 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 06:53 13:49 20:45
Venus 05:12 11:26 17:40
Moon 21:18 01:58 07:35
Mars 08:01 15:10 22:19
Jupiter 19:04 00:54 06:39
Saturn 00:49 05:36 10:22
All times shown in EDT.


The Handbook of the British Astronomical Association.

Image credit

© Jacek Halicki 2016. Perseid meteor seen in 2016 from Poland.




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