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I was watching the YouTube video Perseid Meteor Shower - Mojave Desert, California which looks East before sunrise, presumably in mid-August of 2016. I've made a GIF of a few seconds near the beginning where a fireball appears at about 00:03 in the video, and a faint luminescent trail appears to drift and change shape. I've timed the two stars in Orion Bellatrix and Betelgeuse and the motion is about seven seconds of video to move about 30 minutes in R.A. (near declination 0), so based on that the three or four second visibility in the video works out to about 10-15 minutes.

Is this common? Am I interpreting what I'm seeing correctly? Is such luminosity visible by eye, or only using a camera with a good lens?

enter image description here

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This is an persistent ionization trail. As the meteoroid goes through the upper atmosphere at high speed (sometimes more than 45km/s) electrons are stripped from atoms. As the electrons recombine, the gas glows.

Persistent trails are formed by brighter meteors, and can be visible to the naked eye. They may be visible for up to about 45 minutes, but that depends on the meteor. Generally brighter meteors have brighter trails.

The movement and streaking in the trail can reveal the presence of upper atmosphere winds. As radio waves bounce off the ionised trails, they can be used for long distance radio communictions.

Persistent trails were discussed by the "Bad Astronomer"

enter image description here

Image taken during the 1966 Leonid Meteor storm, produced by a Mag -6 meteor

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a beautiful image! The video linked in the Bad Astronomy article is very nice as well; youtu.be/GZXqmPhd8AQ Thanks for the speedy and conclusive answer! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 6 '17 at 16:53

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