For once, the theorists got it right! Just as predicted, the Aurigid meteor shower made a strong showing on the morning of September 1st. The brief but intense peak occurred at roughly 4:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (11:15 Universal Time), within 15 minutes or so of the predicted maximum. I'd say that's pretty good, considering that these particles were shed by Comet Kiess (C/1911 N1) more than 2,000 years ago!
As with the total lunar eclipse of August 28th, the timing of the shower's maximum favored western North America. At Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, nearly 400 "Friends" and staff of the facility began watching about 4:10 a.m. "Over the next 35 minutes," director E. C. Krupp reports, "between 12 and 15 bright meteors were easily seen despite the light-drenched Los Angeles sky, bright waning gibbous moon, and scatttered light cloud."
On the East Coast, where morning had already dawned, meteor maven Joe Rao tuned in to the meteor radar at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Rao says a "burst" of radio activity seemed to last between 11:30 and 11:34 UT (7:30 to 7:34 a.m. EDT). "During that interval I was able to hear many long overlapping whistles with quite a few 'pings' as well."
When the Aurigids rained down, I had the good fortune to be in my hometown of Madera, California, and I can attest that the shower lived up to its advance billing. The waning gibbous Moon washed out the faintest arrivals, but over the course of 30 minutes I witnessed a half dozen stunners, all magnitude +1 or brighter. Bill Smith, observing well north of me in Ukiah, California, concurs: "The shower members were quite consistent in brightness, being about magnitude 0. A few were as bright as –2."
OK, maybe it wasn't the 1998 Leonids, but it was still a rush!
I wish I could show you my snapshots of those bright fireballs, but — you guessed it — every one of them managed to flare across the sky just outside of my camera's field of view. As seen at right, Sky & Telescope contributing editor Alan Dyer had much better luck from his home in Calgary, Alberta.
Somewhere in the darkness above me, two Gulfstream V jets were silently whizzing by at 47,000 feet, carrying Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute) and his handpicked team of researchers. From all accounts, they got some amazing results.
But plenty of observers on the ground got to see the spectacle too. If you're one of them, please consider adding your views to our online gallery of images. And if you've got an observation to report, please add a comment below.