How to See the Weird, Hard-to-Catch Meteor Shower Peaking Now

For the meteorite-curious, the showers like the consistently good performance Perseids or the Orionids in October are ideal opportunities to see some shooting stars. But for the more die-hard sky watcher, there is perhaps no more satisfying challenge than spying on a daytime meteor.

Tuesday just before sunrise is the best time to try and see one of the harder-to-catch meteors, when the sextantid shower peaks for the day.

We get meteor showers when our planet passes clouds of dense dust and debris normally left behind by comets as they traverse the inner solar system. These small particles, pebbles, and chunks of galactic gravel burn up as they smash into Earth’s upper atmosphere, creating the fleeting streaks we call shooting stars, and occasionally even the more spectacular fireball.

Of course, the universe doesn’t wait for dark to begin this show, and besides, it’s always sunrise somewhere. Some of the debris flows that cause meteor shower are arranged so that the part of the sky from which they are visible is close to the sun. These are typically classified as daytime meteor showers.

Such is the case with the diurnal sextantids, which appear to be radiating from a region only about 30 degrees from the Sun. That small spacing means there’s some chance of catching one or two of the meteors an hour, but likely only in the last hour or so before sunrise, according to the American Meteor Society.

So the daytime sextantids, peaking on Tuesday morning, are really only for the most dedicated meteorite seekers. But they reward particularly patient and lucky early risers with their rather bizarre trait of shooting up from the eastern horizon like a cosmic skywriter announcing the imminent arrival of sunrise.

Estimates of the number of sextantids an observer can expect range from as few as one to 20 per hour. Compare that to between 60 and 100 an hour for the Perseids. But the news of an upward-shooting meteor in the morning sky might be worth the wait.

Your best chance of seeing a few is to find a spot with no light pollution and a clear, expansive view of the eastern horizon. Get outside about 90 minutes before sunrise with something warm and refreshments. Make yourself comfortable, let your eyes adjust and just observe. If you catch any of the weird celestial fireworks, share your story or pictures with me on Twitter @EricCMack.

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