The Perseid meteor shower is the main event of the summer shooting star-spotting season in the northern hemisphere, but its peak is still several weeks off. Fortunately there are a few warm-up acts between now and then to sharpen your skywatching skills.
Sunday night and Monday morning offer an ideal opportunity to head outside and take a shot at catching a Bootid meteor. The June Bootid meteor shower is considered a minor meteor shower that’s weaker than the bigger name showers, but conditions are ideal in 2022 and there’s always a chance the Bootids could blow up.
This year’s peak of activity for the shower is centered on June 27, which is also when the moon is new, meaning it will be darkened in the sky and won’t wash out any meteors that do appear.
Among astronomers, the June Bootids are notoriously unpredictable. Most years the shower is weak, producing few – if any – visible slow-moving meteors. But every now and then we get a Bootid outburst resulting in a flurry of a hundred or more visible meteors per hour.
Such outbursts have been recorded in 1998, 1916, 1921 and 1927, making the shower the celestial equivalent of buying a skywatching lottery ticket. Although, really the odds are much better than any lottery.
The ideal time to look for Bootids is just as the sky becomes fully dark Sunday or Monday evening. This is when the radiant that the meteors will seem to emanate from is highest in the sky.
The source of these particular meteors can be traced to the comet 7P/Pons-Winnecke, which orbits the Sun once every 6.37 years. Each time it passes through the inner solar system it leaves behind a stream of dust and debris that collides with Earth’s atmosphere every June.
If you’re feeling lucky, head out around twilight and give your eyes time to adjust. You’ll also want to allow at least an hour of total observation time to give yourself any real chance of seeing anything.
Choose a location far from light pollution and with a broad view of the sky. If you can, orient yourself toward the constellation Bootes, but this isn’t really critical if you have a wide enough view of the darkened dome overhead.
Relax, enjoy some time outside and hope that 2022 is a lucky year…