By Paul Roggemans, Denis Vida, James M. Scott, Peter Jenniskens, Damir Šegon, and David Rollinson

Abstract: A meteor shower outburst caused by a predicted encounter with the 1974 trail of the Jupiter-family comet 46P/Wirtanen was optically observed above the southwest Pacific, close to the forecast time on the evening of December 12, 2023. 24 multi-station meteor orbits were computed using data from GMN and CAMS stations in New Zealand and Australia, with a radiant at R.A. 7.1° and Decl. –38.8°, located in the Sculptorid constellation. These observations confirm the predictions of its occurrence published earlier by Vauballion et al. (2023). The observed ZHR is low (~0.5 meteors/h) and is due to the slow in-atmosphere velocity of the shower meteoroids (~15 km/s). The average size of the observed meteoroids is ~4 mm, while most of the activity has been predicted in <mm sizes. The large video meteor camera arrays (> 100 cameras) hosted by amateur astronomers in New Zealand and Australia played a critical role in confirming this new meteor shower, as it would have otherwise been missed.



In 1972, comet 46P/Wirtanen (Figure 1) made a pass within 0.276 astronomical units of Jupiter, and another approach in 1984 came within 0.467 AU (Figure 2), Figure 3 shows the current orbit of the comet. Known to be just over 1.5 km wide (Lejoly et al., 2022), 46P/Wirtanen is a Jupiter-family comet that orbits the Sun every 5.4 years. It was originally the target for the Rosetta mission before the mission was delayed and resulted in a change of target to 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The comet was long known as a potential parent body of a meteor shower due to its closeness to Earth’s orbit (e.g., review by Ye and Jenniskens, 2022).

No meteor shower associated with this comet has been observed in the past, but Maslov (2024) published a forecast for possible activity from this comet in 2023 and 2024. He alerted observers about a possible first encounter at 20h55m UT on December 10, 2023 (λʘ = 258.20°) with particles from the 1967 trail and a second encounter at 17h54m UT on December 12, 2023 (λʘ = 260.11°) from the 1974 trail. Although the chances of meteoroids entering the atmosphere were not favorable for both encounters, the author asked observers to check for possible activity. He predicted a more favorable encounter for 2024 at 2h21m UT on December 13.

Figure 1 – 46P Wirtanen, photographed in 2018 by Rolf Carstens (Geyserland Observatory).


In another work, Vaubaillon et al. (2023) also calculated that an encounter with a new meteoroid stream above the Southwestern Pacific could be detected in 2023. Their simulations have shown that it is probable that no meteor activity occurred in the recent past, and 2023 would be the first year with any activity with a maximum on December 12, 2023, between 8h00m and 12h30m UT (λʘ 259.689°–259.879°) with a radiant area near the star λ-Sculptoris (7.5° < αg < 9.2°, –38° < δg < –43°). The low geocentric velocity (vg ~10 km/s) and the relatively small sizes of the meteoroids make this a rather difficult shower for any visual observations (Vaubaillon et al., 2023). The predicted radiant position is in perfect agreement with the forecast by Maslov but the time of the maximum activity for the 1974 dust trail by Vaubaillon et al. (2023), is more than 6 hours earlier than forecast by Maslov.

Figure 2 – 46P/Wirtanen, changes in its orbit in 1972 and 1984. (Reproduced from: Królikowska and Sitarski, 1996).


Figure 3 – The current orbit of the parent comet 46P/Wirtanen relative to the planets.


Radio observations

The first indication of unusual activity appeared on the webpages of IPRMO maintained by Hiroshi Ogawa and Hirofumi Sugimoto which suggested likely enhanced activity recorded by radio observers. However, some caution is warranted since radio forward-scattering observations cannot identify the direction of observed meteor echoes but only provide raw counts. The final compilation of radio observations shows a broader and shallower peak lasting until solar longitude 260.3° (Figure 4). The graph is calculated using the factors for the Geminids and not for 46P/Wirtanen. Further investigation is required to determine the cause of this rate enhancement which will be treated in a separate report.

Figure 4 – First indication for a possible meteor activity caused by particles from 46P/Wirtanen, extracted from the website on December 19, status 23h UT (credit Hirofumi Sugimoto).


Video observations

CAMS Chile (Jenniskens et al., 2011) detected a single meteor associated with this new shower in the hours leading up to this peak (see Table 1), but CAMS New Zealand on the South Island was clouded out.

The Global Meteor Network (GMN; Vida et al., 2019, 2020, 2021) cameras on the North Island of New Zealand (coordinated by J. Scott at the University of Otago) successfully recorded 10 meteors within the predicted range of radiants (Figures 5 and 9). A CBET telegram was issued following this confirmation (Jenniskens et al., 2023).

Figure 5 – December 12th night sky image collected NZ0017 in Rotorua, New Zealand. This stacked night image comprises mostly Geminid meteors and a couple of lambda-Sculptorid meteors (Credit: Peter McKellar).

Figure 6– Plot for 2023 December 13 taken from the CAMS website . The region with the radiant produced by particles that were released by comet 46P/Wirtanen is marked with red.


Figure 7 – Heat map for 2045 Sun-centered ecliptic radiants obtained by GMN during the time interval 259.00° < λʘ < 259.92°.


Figure 8 – Velocity distribution for 2045 Sun-centered ecliptic radiants obtained by GMN during the time interval 259.00° < λʘ < 259.92°.


Further 12 meteors were detected by the cameras of Global Meteor Network in Australia (coordinated by D. Rollinson) (Figures 10 and 11), and 4 were also detected by the CAMS cameras of the CAMS Australia network (coordinated by H. Devillepoix at Curtin University).

The main activity at optical sizes occurred between 259.76° and 260.08° in solar longitude (or December, 12, 9h40m and 17h10m UTC) with 24 meteor orbits captured within this interval. One of these 24 was recorded from Bulgaria and another from South Korea, both with a D-criterion DD < 0.01 (Drummond, 1981). Apart from the CAMS orbit recorded in Chile, 3 more orbits with very similar elements were recorded before the main group of 24 orbits, two from the UK and one from Bulgaria. One more orbit was detected in New Zealand about 20 hours after the main group.

Figures 6, 7 and 8 show that the usual number of meteor radiants near the antapex is very low. The antapex is the direction opposite to the direction of Earth’s motion around the Sun, which is at the edge of the plot in Figures 7 and 8. The reason is that these meteoroids come from the rear into the Earth atmosphere which moves away at about 30 km/s. Meteoroids entering the atmosphere from this direction must catch up to the Earth and have enough velocity relative to our planet to produce enough energy to cause ionization and become visible as a meteor. Experienced meteor observers know that the local evening hours display low meteor activity compared to the morning sky when our planet catches meteoroids ‘head-on’. For example, typical evening meteor showers such as the Andromedids and October Draconids produce very slow meteors from a very dispersed apparent radiant, comparable to meteors from 46P/Wirtanen. Hypothetically, if the Earth encountered the same meteoroids head-on at much higher velocities (the radiant would be near the apex), a particle of the same size would produce much brighter meteors thanks to the energy being proportional to the square of the impact velocity.

Figure 9 – A lambda-Sculptorid as recorded on 12 December, 2023, at 11h05m58s UT from 4 locations by GMN cameras in New Zealand. NZ0017 is Kaharoa, Rotorua, NZ002X is Maharakeke Road 1, Waipukurau, NZ0037 Welcome Bay 2, Tauranga, NZ002K Western Heights High School, Rotorua.


Figure 10 – A lambda-Sculptorid meteor recorded by AU001D at Darkan, Western Australia at 13h21m43.1s UT on 12 December 2023.


Figure 11 – A lambda-Sculptorid meteor recorded by AU002C at Pemberton, Western Australia at 13h21m43.1s UT on 12 December 2023.


Mean radiant and orbit

An analysis with an iterative procedure to locate the best-fitting mean orbit for a concentration of similar orbits has been applied to a sample of GMN orbits selected as follows:

  • 258° < λʘ < 261°
  • 350° < αg < 20°
  • –46° < δg< –36°
  • vg< 12 km/s

9717 orbits, recorded by GMN in 2023, were available for the above-mentioned time interval in solar longitude. The method used for this search has been described before (Roggemans et al., 2019) and combines three classic discrimination criteria, considering different classes for the degree of similarity. The discrimination criteria used in this method are that of Southworth and Hawkins (1963), identified as DSH, Drummond (1981), identified as DD, and Jopek (1993), identified as DH. The method to compute the mean orbit at each step during the iteration process has been described by Jopek et al. (2006). We define five different classes with specific threshold levels of similarity:

  • Low: DSH < 0.25 & DD < 0.105 & DH < 0.25;
  • Medium low: DSH < 0.2 & DD < 0.08 & DH < 0.2;
  • Medium high: DSH < 0.15 & DD < 0.06 & DH < 0.15;
  • High: DSH < 0.1 & DD < 0.04 & DH < 0.1.
  • Very high: DSH < 0.05 & DD < 0.02 & DH < 0.05.

The procedure converged at a mean orbit derived from 28 similar orbits with the median radiant almost exactly at the predicted position (Table 1). For this type of orbit, we consider only orbits with a high threshold of similarity (DD < 0.04) in order to exclude random sporadic orbits. The first meteor was recorded by 9 cameras in the UK at λʘ = 258.18°, followed at λʘ = 259.054° by a second meteor by two GMN cameras in Bulgaria. The next of these orbits was recorded at λʘ = 259.122° by four cameras in the UK. Then there is a pause until 24 more orbits were detected during the interval 259.76°< λʘ < 260.08°, 10 by cameras in New Zealand, 12 by cameras in Australia, one from Bulgaria and one from South Korea, all except four with DSH < 0.03 and DD < 0.02. It seems no activity was detected between the first three cases, and the cluster of 24 very similar orbits, although cameras were successfully capturing in between from different geographic locations.

Table 1 – The orbital elements of the parent comet, and mean orbital parameters of the meteors based on CAMS (Jenniskens, 2023) and GMN data.

  46P/Wirtanen CAMS GMN
Epoch JD 2458465 J2000.0 J2000.0
λʘ (°) 259.402 259.93
αg (°) 4.6±0.5 7.1±1.7
δg (°) –36.4±0.9 –38.8±0.8
vg (km/s) 8.6±0.1 10.0±0.2
λ – λʘ (°) 88.3±1.4
β (°) –37.8±1.0
Hb (km) 90.2±1.1
He (km) 78.9±3.2
a (AU) 3.09 4.1 2.90±0.16
q (AU) 1.05536 0.968 0.9846
e 0.6588 0.766 0.661±0.002
ω (°) 356.340 343.7 359.84±0.75
Ω (°) 82.158 79.4 79.92
i (°) 11.75 7.6 9.17±0.32
Π (°) 78.5 63.1 79.76±0.74
Tj 2.82 2.40 2.90±0.09
N 1 24


Figure 12 – The 46P/Wirtanen meteor radiant in geocentric equatorial coordinates (GMN orbit data).


Figure 13 – The 46P/Wirtanen meteor radiant in geocentric Sun-centered ecliptic coordinates (GMN orbit data).


Figure 14 – The distribution of the inclination i against the longitude of perihelion Π for the 46P/Wirtanen meteoroid orbits (GMN orbit data).


The Solar System is filled with very old meteoroids on orbits at low inclination which have evolved over time far away from the orbits of their parent bodies, and which cannot be associated with any meteoroid stream. These meteoroids are classified as sporadic. Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between a sporadic on a very similar orbit to a shower meteor and a dispersed meteoroid stream member. Therefore, we decided to use only the 24 orbits in a tight cluster within time of the predicted activity. The values given for GMN data in Table 1 are based on this cluster.

The radiant plot in equatorial coordinates (Figure 12) shows a very compact radiant area with only 3 events separated from the main radiant concentration. The same situation appears in the plot with the Sun-centered ecliptic coordinates (Figure 13). Looking at the distribution of the inclination i against the longitude of perihelion Π, we see the same concentration (Figure 14). We can conclude that there is sufficient evidence that Earth encountered a concentration of particles which confirm the presence of dust produced by the 1974 dust trail of comet 46P/Wirtanen.

The black dots in Figures 12, 13 and 14 are sporadic orbits. For the computation of the mean orbit only the red and orange dots were considered (DD < 0.04). The compact concentration of these orbits is obvious from these distributions. For reason of completeness, we also plot the “less” similar orbits color-coded as yellow, green and blue. In our limited analysis, we cannot assess if these are dispersed particles associated with 46P/Wirtanen or are simply nearby sporadics.

We also checked for possible activity from the first encounter forecasted by Mikail Maslov, at 20h55m UT on December 10 (λʘ = 258.20°) with particles from the 1967 trail. We found only 3 orbits at this node with DD < 0.04, dispersed over about a day and which cannot be excluded as sporadics.

A search among meteor orbit data of previous years resulted in a number of similar orbits with DD < 0.04 using the mean orbit from Table 1 as a reference orbit. The search was applied on 471583 orbits by CAMS (2010–2016), 508266 orbits by EDMOND (2001–2023), 722314 orbits by GMN (2018–2022) and 443196 orbits by SonotaCo network (2007–2022), 2145359 orbits in total. All positive matches were dispersed in time and in radiants, with no obvious clustering. We conclude that they can be explained as sporadics and that there is no indication of any activity from this source in the past, in line with the findings by Vauballion et al. (2023).

Activity profile

The meteor shower flux profile based on ~150 single-station meteors reported by the GMN (Figure 15) shows that the peak ZHR of the shower was around 0.5 meteors/h, which is well below the detectability threshold for visual observers. In other words, without a large-scale network of video cameras, this activity would have passed completely unnoticed. On average, each camera observed around one lambda-Sculptorid meteor during the entire night.

The mean limiting mass of the flux observations was around 0.02 grams, translating to meteoroids of 4 mm in diameter assuming a cometary meteoroid bulk density of 500 kg/m3.

According to the stream modelling, the shower should have been mainly produced by small particles with a size of less than 1 mm, just under the detectability limit of wide-field GMN cameras but detectable by radio. There is some enhancement in radio meteor activity during the lambda-Sculptorids video activity, but it is unclear if this is due to this meteor shower or some other source. The outstanding question is whether any enhanced activity in radio echoes can be confirmed.

Figure 15 – The flux and corresponding ZHR profile (Vida et al., 2022) for the lambda-Sculptorids based on GMN data collected during 2023.



Radio observers contributing to IPRMO were the first to indicate possible meteor activity related to the 1974 dust trail released by 46P/Wirtanen, but it remains to be confirmed which source caused this enhancement. The visual (video) counterpart confirmed the meteor activity from the predicted radiant position, but with a low activity level (ZHR around 0.5 meteors/h).

The radiant position predicted by Maslov (2024) and Vaubaillon et al. (2023) matches the observed position. The time of the observed activity occurred a few hours later than predicted by Vaubaillon et al. (2023) and a few hours earlier than predicted by Maslov (2024), indicating possible improvements in the shower model parameters.

The new meteor shower has been added to the IAU MDC meteor shower list with preliminary designation M2023-Y1. Once established, it will be given the currently provisional name of lambda-Sculptorids (LSC).

According to Maslov (2024), another possible opportunity to see this shower may occur next year 2024 on December 13, 2h21m UT from a radiant at RA = 340.9°, Dec = +28.3°.


The authors thank all the camera operators and people involved in the Global Meteor Network and CAMS. The Global Meteor Network (GMN) data are released under the following license.

The Global Meteor Network results were obtained thanks to the efforts of the following volunteers: Adam Mullins, Aden Walker, Adrian Bigland, Adriana Roggemans, Alain Marin, Alaistar Brickhill, Alan Beech, Alan Maunder, Alan Pevec, Alan Pickwick, Alan Decamps, Alan Cowie, Alastair Emerson, Aled Powell, Alejandro Barriuso, Aleksandar Merlak, Alex Bell, Alex Haislip, Alex Hodge, Alex Jeffery, Alex Kichev, Alex McConahay, Alex Pratt, Alex Roig, Alex Aitov, Alexander Wiedekind-Klein, Alexandre Alves, Alfredo Dal’ Ava Júnior, Alison Scott, Amy Barron, Anatoly Ijon, Andre Rousseau, Andre Bruton, Andrea Storani, Andrei Marukhno, Andres Fernandez, Andrew Campbell-Laing, Andrew Challis, Andrew Cooper, Andrew Fiamingo, Andrew Heath, Andrew Moyle, Andrew Washington, Andrew Fulher, Andrew Robertson, Andy Stott, Andy Sapir, Ange Fox, Angel Sierra, Angélica López Olmos, Anna Johnston, Ansgar Schmidt, Anthony Hopkinson, Anthony Pitt, Anthony Kesterton, Anton Macan, Anton Yanishevskiy, Antony Crowther, Anzhari Purnomo, Arie Blumenzweig, Arie Verveer, Arnaud Leroy, Attila Nemes, Barry Findley, Bart Dessoy, Bela Szomi Kralj, Bernard Côté, Bernard Hagen, Bev M. Ewen-Smith, Bill Cooke, Bill Wallace, Bill Witte, Bill Carr, Bill Thomas, Bob Evans, Bob Greschke, Bob Hufnagel, Bob Marshall, Bob Massey, Bob Zarnke, Bob Guzik, Brenda Goodwill, Brendan Cooney, Brendon Reid, Brian Chapman, Brian Murphy, Brian Rowe, Brian Hochgurtel, Wyatt Hochgurtel, Brian Mitchell, Bruno Bonicontro, Callum Potter, Carl Elkins, Carl Mustoe, Carl Panter, Charles Thody, Charlie McCormack, Chris Baddiley, Chris Blake, Chris Dakin, Chris George, Chris James, Chris Ramsay, Chris Reichelt, Chris Chad, Chris O’Neill, Chris White, Chris Jones, Chris Sale, Christian Wanlin, Christine Ord, Christof Zink, Christophe Demeautis, Christopher Coomber, Christopher Curtis, Christopher Tofts, Christopher Brooks, Chuck Goldsmith, Chuck Pullen, Ciaran Tangney, Claude Boivin, Claude Surprenant, Clive Sanders, Colin Graham, Colin Marshall, Colin Nichols, Con Stoitsis, Craig Young, Creina Beaman, Daknam Al-Ahmadi, Damien Lemay, Damien McNamara, Damir Matković, Damir Šegon, Damjan Nemarnik, Dan Klinglesmith, Dan Pye, Daniel Duarte, Daniel J. 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