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Meteor Showers

Meteor Showers

Introduction: Have you ever wished upon a shooting star? If so, you were really wishing upon a meteor! A meteor is a streak of light in the sky from a small piece of rock or dust falling through the mesosphere of Earth's atmosphere. The small pieces of rock in space are meteoroids. Any meteoroids that reach Earth's surface are called meteorites. Don't worry though! Most meteoroids burn up before they reach the ground!

As Earth orbits the Sun, it crosses trails of meteoroids left from comets and even asteroids. Comets orbit the Sun in their own paths. When a comet's orbit takes it close to the Sun, the heat from the Sun boils off some of the ice from the comet. This releases a trail of dust and rocky debris. We see an increase in the number of meteors when Earth crosses a debris field of meteoroids. This is a meteor shower. Some meteor showers produce upwards of 100 meteors per hour! Although most showers produce much lower rates of meteors.

Interestingly, a meteor shower is not named after its comet or asteroid. Rather, meteor showers are named after the constellation it appears to come from in the night sky. For example, if you want to watch the Leonids in November, then you should look towards the constellation Leo. Which constellation do you think you should look toward if you want to watch the Orionids meteor shower in October?

The table lists several of the major meteor showers each year. How well you can see each shower will depend on your location, the phase of the Moon, and the weather. It is best to watch a meteor shower in the dark of night and away from light pollution. Some meteor showers, like June's Arietids, are most active during the day. However, it difficult to view the meteors as sunlight usually outshines them. Be sure to check online for peak dates and times for each shower since these will vary a bit each year. Enjoy the show!

Meteor Shower NamePeak Dates
QuadrantidsJanuary 3-4
LyridsApril 21-22
Eta AquaridsMay 4–5
Delta AquaridsJuly 28–29
PerseidsAug. 11–12
OrionidsOct. 20–21
LeonidsNov. 16–17
GeminidsDec. 13–14
UrsidsDec. 21–22