The lonely (and lowly) a-Scorpiid meteor shower gets no respect

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      As far as annual meteor showers go, the a-Scorpiids get, as comedian Rodney Dangerfield would have said, "no respect". 

      While better known, flashier, and sometimes spectacular showers such as the Perseids, Orionids, and Leonids get the major share of media attention and aficionados' love, the lowly a-Scorpiids barely register a mention, even on websites that specialize in skywatcher news.

      Why the relegation to the low shelves in the back of the meteor store?

      First of all, the yearly event is spread over almost an entire month (late April to late May), without a defining day or two where the peak "storm" can be viewed at maximum intensity (although this Sunday [April 28] is listed as the nominal day of maximum activity).

      As well, it occurs early in the year, a time that is often marked by chilly post-midnight weather and cloudy skies, which make for uncomfortable and/or impossible viewing.

      Finally—and worst of all in some meteor freaks' books—the rate of meteors is usually only about five per hour, compared to some outrageously high cyclical "swarms" occasionally encountered with some of the best-known storms (historically, sometimes hundreds per hour; realistically, about one per minute for the best known).

      But the lowly Scorpiids sometimes only treat dedicated watchers to one every 20 minutes or so, with few of the gasp-inducing "fireballs" that create a blazing streak in the sky that lingers like a tracer bullet.

      But for those who have time, weather luck, and perseverance on their side (hello, afternoon-shift workers), the Scorpiids can be just the ticket for a relaxing sit in a comfortable folding chair with a light jacket and a mug of steaming tea at hand someplace away from intense city lights. Better yet, the weeks-long viewing window affords the opportunity to eschew days when the moon's phase might present too much brightness competition.

      The International Space Station.
      © Roscosmos/NASA/Flickr

      Even if you see no "shooting stars" associated with this event, you might see a random "sporadic" meteor that is not associated with an annual shower. At this time of year, they usually occur at a rate of three or four per hour, often seen in the hour before dawn.

      And if you familiarize yourself with the orbital schedule of the International Space Station (it is actually very visible to the naked eye), you might be able to coordinate viewing times when it can be spotted speeding (at 28,ooo kilometres per hour, every 90 minutes) across the night sky. Go here to learn more.

      So give the lowly Scorpiids a bit of post-midnight and pre-dawn respect during the coming days. In Vancouver, the next two weeks appear to offer minimal rain and mostly clear days and nights. Better, the waning moon will present little in the way of interference.

      Look to the skies!