June 11, 1930. Three meteor watchers in Maryland were quietly watching the sky when out of nowhere a half-hour-long bright outburst of meteors flared from the little constellation Delphinus the Dolphin. Since that time, observers keen on meteors have watched for an encore without success.
But there might be good news for this all-but-unknown shower. Peter Jenniskins, research scientist with the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center, suggests that the cometary debris responsible for the Gamma Delphinids may return again to ignite a similar outburst tomorrow morning June 11.
The expected time of maximum activity is 4:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 3:30 a.m. Central, 2:30 a.m. Mountain and 1:30 a.m. Pacific and 11:30 p.m. (tonight) Hawaiian. No moon will spoil the view and Delphinus will be high in the southern sky as seen from the Americas. You’ll know you’re seeing a shower meteor if you can trace its path back to Delphinus, a small pattern of stars in the shape of a dolphin near the bottom of the bright Summer Triangle asterism.
This is an oddball shower for sure, since no one knows how many meteors might be visible or even its duration – estimates range from one hour to 15 minutes with meteors appearing a minute or two apart.
If you’re in a gambling mood, unfold your reclining lounger and face south an hour before the expected maximum and keep watch. Even if the Gamma Delphinids fail to show you’ll have a fine view of the summer Milky Way. Bring binoculars and enjoy the rich star fields along its length. You’re also guaranteed to see at least a few random or sporadic meteors – typically 5-10 per hour.
Tonight June 10-11 from 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. CDT, Dr. Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office will take your questions about the Gamma Delphinids via live web chat. He’ll offer viewing tips about the shower and include a live Ustream telescope view of the skies over Huntsville, Ala.
If you spot any Gamma Dels, please send a report to: firstname.lastname@example.org Have video or images? Consider sharing them with the Office’s Flickr group. Any observations could help scientists unravel the shower’s origins and assist in predicting future outbursts.
And don’t forget, tonight (June 10) the newly-hatched crescent moon joins Mercury and Venus at dusk in the northwestern sky.