Rare Andromedid Meteor Outburst Happening This Weekend

Sketch of Comet Biela made by E. Weiss when it returned split in two during its 1846 appearance.

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.

The 1872 “Bielids” resembled the incredible Leonid meteor storm of 1833, an engraving of which is shown here.

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).

Watch for the Andromedids to shoot from a point in the sky near the star Gamma in the M-shaped constellation Cassiopeia located high in the northern sky during early evening hours. This map shows the sky at 8 p.m. local time in early-mid December. Stellarium

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.

Click HERE for more on Biela’s Comet and HERE for additional good material about the Andromedids.

8 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I have not done too much outside, being it is so sun arctic cold for early December. It looks like I might need binoculars to see Lovejoy now. I am a little confused about ISON. Recent reports put it about magnitude 7.5 but apparently only a couple have seen it or photographed it. Is it’s light too spread out? Or is the magnitude quickly slipping away?

    1. astrobob

      Most attempts either visually with a variety of scopes and photographically have turned up nothing. It’s possible J.J. Gonzalez saw something (the only definitive, positive sighting to date) but no one else has … yet. It may in part involve the comet’s fading about ISON fading, but other factors are at play. Sky conditions may part and field of view size when it comes to photography. Narrow fields wouldn’t record it (it has almost “zero” condensation and is at least 1/4 degree across), but wide fields and deep time exposures with stacking might. I’ve seen both varieties so far and none show the comet. There are two other tentative visual observations, so Gonzalez’s is the only possible sighting.

  2. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the Info, I am surprise that there’s one by that name ..!! Goes to show , that you’re never too old to learn. Well, if it does deliver 1% of the 1872 amount now, I would be more than happy. This is something for my students to look up to, since they were heart broken at the demise of Ison. Most of them lack enthusiasm in our recent outing, and this I hope will be a good one, along with the Geminids !!!

    Thanks, Take care and have a Blessed Christmas to you and your Family !!

    James Moh.

  3. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    I saw a fireball in city (mag like a planet or bright star) a couple of days ago when I was watching M31, so possibly it was an Andromedoid.

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