7 fireballs in 1 night! The Alpha Capricornids roar

7 fireballs in 1 night

Some big meteor showers can fizzle while some small ones can roar! That’s the unpredictable nature of meteor showers. Mid-July kicks off a busy meteor season in the Northern Hemisphere. The Perseids and the Southern Delta Aquariids are the main sources of this activity. The Alpha Capricornids are a minor source of meteors, which peak during the last week of July, usually producing no more than five meteors per hour at best. But on the night of July 25-26, 2023, this meteor shower put on a blazing show.

The Alpha Caps, as we call them, are best known for producing bright fireballs. Surprisingly though, meteor cameras all over the world have been capturing an unusual number of these fireballs. This is earlier than normal, as we expected most of the fireball activity during the last days of the month and the first few days of August. For me, these Alpha Cap fireballs began on July 18, with one each night on the 20th, 23rd and 24th. The cameras caught none on the 25th, but then an incredible six shot past the cameras on the 26th.

Still images of the 6 Capricornids

Here’s a closer look at each of the fireballs from the video above.

First up is an Alpha Cap fireball that flashed in front of Pegasus, a constellation far from the radiant.

Fireball at lower right with 3 bright spots on a streak.
This Alpha Cap fireball appeared in Pegasus, far from the radiant in Capricornus. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

The second fireball included a fainter meteor heading in the opposite direction. These were nearly simultaneous Alpha Caps. The fireball shot eastward while the fainter meteor shot westward.

A bright streak at the left center and a fainter streak at the right center.
An Alpha Cap fireball and a fainter Alpha Cap meteor. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

The third Alpha Cap was a double bursting fireball in Sagittarius.

A bright streak with 2 balls of light in a row near the end.
This frame captured the double bursting fireball in Sagittarius. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

The fourth Alpha Cap streaked past Saturn in Aquarius.

A bold streak of white light with a small yellowish dot to the right.
An Alpha Cap fireball streaked past Saturn in Aquarius. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

The fifth Alpha Cap had a terminal burst. It appeared near Cassiopeia.

Bright streak of light coming in from the top with a ball of light at the end of it.
An Alpha Cap with a terminal burst. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

The sixth and final Alpha Cap from July 25 to 26 passed in front of a camera with a spectral slide. Thus, we got a view of the meteor’s spectrum.

A streak of light broken into pieces with some reddish to bluish hues.
This Alpha Cap fireball passed in front of a camera that can show its spectrum. Image via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

A non-Alpha Capricornid fireball

On any given night you can see stray meteors and sometimes even fireballs. Such was the case on this night with the Alpha Capricornid fireballs. Check out the gorgeous stray fireball below.

A white streak that is fatter at the bottom in a dark sky.
This was the brightest fireball of the night and the only one that was not a member of the Alpha Capricornid meteor shower. Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society captured 7 fireballs in 1 night with an AllSky6 Meteor Camera System, owned by the University of Arizona. All images and videos on this page are via Robert Lunsford/ American Meteor Society.

There’s still time for you to see an Alpha Cap fireball

What does this all mean? Well, Earth is obviously entering an area of space where these Alpha Cap fireballs are more numerous. They should increase and peak near the end of the month. The full moon on August 1 will badly hamper the viewing of the regular meteors from this shower. Fortunately, that won’t affect these fireballs, as they’re all brighter than the planet Venus, and you can easily see them through the most intense moonlight.

Bottom line: If you wish to get out and see some celestial fireworks, get out and view the Alpha Capricornids. They are active all night long this time of year!

July 28, 2023

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