A meteor shower is a beautiful, dazzling display of lights in the sky. It’s not just one meteor, but many that seem to come from the same point because they all originate from space rocks left behind by comets or asteroids and now burn up into dust as heat escapes through gravity.
Facts About Meteor Showers
- The light shows that is a meteor shower can be caused by comet debris.
- The meteor showers that are the result of asteroid debris, rather than comet dust, come in two varieties.
- The dazzling Orionid Meteor shower is created by dust and debris left behind from the passage of Comet 1P/Halley.
- The study of how rare it was for a human to be struck by a meteorite in 1985 estimated that someone would get hit once every 180 years.
- The Perseid meteor shower has been occurring for some time, but it wasn’t until the year 36 AD when they were documented in Chinese annals.
- If you want to see a meteor shower, the best time is in the early hours of the morning with no moon and dark skies.
- Meteors fall to Earth during the day, although we can’t see them.
What Is a Meteor Shower?
The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but if you trace them back to their origin point they seem like a constant shower of light coming from that same region.
The radiant is the place where these showers are named after since it’s also called a “shower” and can be found in this region of the sky.
The Leonid meteor shower is named because the meteors appear to fall from a point in Leo, and it’s radiant. The Perseid meteor shower has its namesake for similar reasons. They seem as if they came shooting out of an area within the constellation.
What Are Shooting Stars?
“Shooting stars” and “falling stars.” These are just two of many names for a meteor. The bright streaks of light across the night sky are caused by small pieces of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids, which burn up under intense friction in Earth’s atmosphere.
These meteoroids are speeding at tens of thousands of miles per hour and while most completely burn up in the atmosphere, only about 500 which reach ground level can be called meteorites.
When a meteor flashes across the sky, it appears to “shoot” at such great speed that you might think it’s not a falling piece of rock but instead some kind of celestial body.
Famous Meteor Showers
The Perseids meteor shower is the most famous meteor shower, and easy to observe for a good chunk of time. Every year in August when Earth moves through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle we get this awesome show that lasts all night long!
The Leonid meteor shower is most observable in the northern hemisphere. It happens in November every year and debris from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle rains down into our atmosphere to create a spectacular show for observers lucky enough to catch it.
You can witness the Geminids meteor shower this December when Earth crosses stream from asteroid 3200 Phaethon in what appears to be the direction of Gemini. Observers have commented that these meteors travel more slowly than other showers, and will only be visible sometime after midnight on the night of December.
The Lyrids shower, or as it’s sometimes called the April Shower, showers down at around 3 am and is brought in by pieces of comet C/1861 G1/Thatcher. It generally radiates from the Lyra constellation. The peak of this storm is around April 22nd. Every 60 years or so, this shower becomes more intense and peaks in intensity during the last week before May 1st.
When Is the Next Meteor Shower?
There are 21 meteor showers that occur mostly between April and December. Each of them has a distinctive color, type, and pattern which can be viewed in the night sky. There are plenty of excellent websites to find meteor showers we look at some of the best below:
Meteor Showers in 2021
|Shower Name||Best Viewing||Point Of Origin||Date||No. Per Hour||Associated Comet|
|Eta Aquarid||Predawn||SE||May 4–5||10||Halley|
|Delta Aquarid||Predawn||S||July 28–29||10|
|Draconid||Late evening||NW||Oct. 9–10||6||Giacobini-Zinner|
|Northern Taurid||Late evening||S||Nov. 11–12||3||Encke|
|Andromedid||Late evening||S||Nov. 25–27||5||Biela|
|Geminid||All night||NE||Dec. 13–14||75|
Predawn – The best time to view the most major showers is at midnight through about an hour before morning twilight.
Late evening – The best time to call is between 10 p.m and midnight, or a little past.