Ever heard of the Andromedids? They were briefly a major meteor shower – meteor storm might be a better description – visible in the late 1800s after the break-up of Comet Biela. The comet was discovered in 1772 and in 1805 but no one knew it was the same object until it was found for a third time in 1826 by Wilhelm von Biela and an orbit calculated.
When Comet Biela returned in 1846, astronomers were surprised to see it had split into two comets traveling side by side. Biela came back for another spin in 1852, but after that mysteriously disappeared until November 27, 1872. That night, instead of a comet, skywatchers were treated to a spectacular meteor storm from Biela’s dusty remains. Rates reached 3,000 meteors per hour.
Amazing displays of “Bielids” (renamed Andromedids) occurred again in 1885, 1892 and 1899. Since then, no one saw hide nor hair of Biela’s showery remnants until 2011, when the Andromedids returned with a rate of 50 per hour.
Kelly Beatty, who writes for Sky and Telescope magazine, passed along the news this evening that meteor specialist Peter Brown, using data from the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar, has recorded a big outburst of Andromedid meteors in the past 24 hours. Comet Biela’s bits of dust are small and slow moving compared to most, striking Earth’s atmosphere at “only” 12 miles per second (19 km/sec).
Maybe you even saw a few when you were out watching the northern lights last night. Brown suggest that the shower has yet to peak, so tonight might offer an even better meteor show. Pity it’s overcast here in Duluth, Minn. or I’d be running off to the country with coat and camera.
If it’s clear by you, please take a look. We’d love to hear if the shower’s still in progress. The Andromedid radiant – the point from which the meteors will appear to radiate – is currently located near the center of Cassiopeia as shown in the map and up most if not all night for observers at mid-northern latitudes. December’s shaping up as a great time for meteor watching with the Geminid meteor shower set to peak next Saturday morning.