Visual Meteor Observation

An easy way to observe meteors visually is what we call the 'counting method.' The observer notes the meteors seen on a tape recorder or just a piece of paper. He gives the estimated magnitude of the meteor and whether or not it belonged to the observed shower (e.g. Perseid or non-Perseid). This method is applicable for major shower maxima like the Quadrantids, Perseids, and Geminids.

You have to decide which observing method, plotting or counting, can be used most favourably. Since you want to have as much information as possible out of your observation, the answer to this question seems to be clear: plotting. But plotting has the main disadvantage that the time used for plotting meteors is dead time. If the meteor frequency is too high, it may happen that you spend, say up to 50% of your observing time for the plotting procedure. Such an observation becomes quite unreliable. This situation occurs when the total meteor activity is high, such as in August or October, or when a major shower is active.

Imagine you want to observe in October. Then a major shower, the Orionids, and two minor showers, the Taurids and epsilon-Geminids, are active. The meteor frequency may be such that your observation becomes useless if you plot each meteor seen. In this case you should combine both methods.

All meteors which could belong to one of the minor showers are plotted while obvious Orionids and Sporadics are "counted" according to the guidelines for major-shower observations, i.e. you record the latter meteor data onto tape (or write the details as notes) without taking your eyes off the sky, while plotting the former meteors. In this way you reduce the amount of dead time but still enable an accurate shower association to be obtained for the minor showers.

As soon as you see more than 20 meteors per hour you should plot only meteors which could belong to a minor shower; other meteors are "counted" only.

Please note that at the beginning and near the end of their activity periods the major showers have to be considered as minor ones as well since they then produce low rates.

As long as you see less than 20 meteors per hour you can plot all meteors seen, and when the frequency becomes very high, say 50 meteors per hour, you should only concentrate on the major shower which causes this activity.