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Unexpected Perseid outburst floods cameras, wows viewers

Perseid outburst: Seven photographs showing different skies with many white streaks across them.
This image reminded us of old engravings of historical meteor storms. It’s an unexpected Perseid outburst on August 14, 2021. The image shows 926 meteors captured by Carl Bracken with his AMS42 camera for the Cedar Amateur Astronomers Iowa stations. Image via Carl Bracken/ Robert Lunsford/ IMO.

Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society (AMS) and the International Meteor Organization (IMO) originally published this story at the IMO’s website on August 15, 2021. Re-printed here with permission. Thanks, Robert!

Unexpected Perseid outburst

On the morning of August 14, 2021, the Perseid meteor shower displayed an unexpected outburst of meteors between 06:00 and 09:00 UTC (1 to 4 a.m. CDT). So far we have received visual confirmation of an impressive display of Perseids from observers in Wyoming, U.S., and Ontario, Canada. AllSky camera systems located in Iowa, U.S., have recorded between 900 and 1,100 meteors each during the course of the entire night. My AllSky system, located outside of San Diego, California, U.S., recorded just under 600 meteors with cloud interference and a lower radiant altitude. The cause of this outburst is currently unknown but is probably the result of an unknown filament of comet debris produced by comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle as it raced through the inner solar system many centuries ago. Rates are normally 50% lower each preceding night after maximum but these rates are two to three times more than was seen during the expected maximum on the night of August 12/13, 2021.

Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams #5016 (Jenniskens, 2021) states the peak was reached on August 14 at 08:02 UTC (solar longitude 141.474 ±0.005 degrees (equinox J2000.0)), with maximum zenithal hourly rate between 130 ±20 (calculated from CAMS Texas and California networks) and 210 ±20 (calculated by K. Miskotte (DMS) from Pierre Martin’s visual observations) in good agreement with values calculated by H. Ogawa of the International Project for Radio Meteor Observation from radio forward-scatter meteor observations.

According to Peter Jenniskens, this probable filament may have been crossed over the last years, especially in 2018 (ZHR ~ 25 at solar longitude 140.95 degrees) and 2019 (ZHR ~ 30 at solar longitude 141.02 degrees).

Black background and white streaks appearing to radiate from a point on the left.
This is a composite image of meteors captured from the San Diego, California, area between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. PDT (08:00 to 09:00 UTC) August 14, 2021. This camera faces northeast towards the radiant so meteors can be seen shooting in all directions. Image via the University of Arizona.
Dark gray background with numerous white streaks.
This is a composite image of meteors captured from the San Diego, California, area between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. PDT (08:00 to 09:00 UTC) on August 14, 2021. The camera faces overhead and the radiant lies outside the frame to the right. The long streaks are aircraft. Image via the University of Arizona.

References

MeteorNews: Strong outburst Perseids on August 14, 2021 ~ 6 to 9 UTC

MeteorNews: Perseid meteor outburst 2021 by Peter Jenniskens

Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams: Perseid meteor shower outburst 2021 by Peter Jenniskens

Heather M. Wendelboe: Personal Communication

Michael Hankey: Personal Communication

Photos from all-sky cameras

Seven photographs showing different skies with many thin white streaks across them.
This picture shows 822 meteors captured by Jim Bonser on August 14, 2021, with his AMS41 camera for the Cedar Amateur Astronomers Iowa stations. Image via Jim Bonser.
Seven photographs showing different skies with very many white streaks across them.
This picture shows 1,031 meteors captured by Jim Hannon on August 14, 2021, with his AMS48 camera for the Cedar Amateur Astronomers Iowa stations. Image via Jim Hannon.

Bottom line: An unexpected Perseid outburst took place on August 14, 2021. Some automatic all-sky cameras caught it, and observers in Wyoming, U.S., and Ontario, Canada, made visual observations.

Read more from EarthSky: Perseid meteor shower 2021 reaches its peak

Via the International Meteor Organization

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