Hundreds of meteors have been shooting from the constellation Aries this week. Known as the Arietids, the meteor shower peaks tomorrow morning (June 7).
Pity the radiant, the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to stream, shares the sky with the sun. That’s right. This is daytime meteor shower. If we could remove the sun, the Arietids would be one of the best showers of the year with 60 per hour visible at peak. Since that’s not an option, you can catch-as-catch-can tomorrow morning before the start of dawn.
The meteor shower radiant will be very low in the east-northeast at the time, so the horizon will cut off lots of meteors that would otherwise be visible if Aries were high in the sky. All is not lost! Since the radiant hovers only a few degrees above the horizon, the meteor particles, called meteoroids, skim Earth’s upper atmosphere nearly horizontally (parallel to the ground), traveling slowly and burning brightly. They’re called Earthgrazers because they graze the atmosphere instead of piercing it at a steep angle
No one is certain of the Arietids’ origin — possibilities include the asteroid 1566 Icarus or the debris left in the orbital path of Comet 96P/Machholz. Icarus, named for the Icarus of Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun, ducks between the sun and Mercury, where it’s outer crust is heated to high temperatures. Perhaps it loses some material to space that plops into its orbit to spawn the June Arietids.
Even if you don’t watch the shower, it’s fun to know that for the next few days, it’ll be rainy meteors in the daytime!