All About Meteor Showers

An article about what meteors are and what makes a meteor shower.

A meteor is considered a small piece of an asteroid that collided with another. Some of them are leftovers from comets. Meteors often occur in showers. A shower is when the rate of meteors seen is far above the average. An average rate of meteors is a few random meteors an hour, up to seven. They show up in no particular area of the sky. The trail from meteors entering the atmosphere comes from air molecules knocking away material from the meteor. The electrons are stripped from the meteor. When the atoms recapture their electrons, light is emitted. Varying colors of light result from the temperature and material that is being stripped.

When the Earth passes through a cloud of space debris, it is called a shower. For example, the Leonids shower in mid-November is from the remains of the comet Temple-Tuttle. A typical rate of meteors during a shower is hundreds seeming to come from the same area of the sky. A shower can last from a few hours to several days, with the amount of meteors varying. The number of meteors depends on where the Earth is entering the area. If we pass through the head of comet, the meteor rate for the shower is higher. The rate also increases after midnight during a shower because that side of the Earth is turned toward the incoming debris field. Meteors are seen in all parts of the sky, but their trajectories appear to come from one point. That point is called the radiant. The radiant is named depending on which constellation is the host.

The Quadrantids shower occurs approximately the first week of January. They have a rate of around 110 meteors per hour at the maximum. The Lyrids shower is around April 22, with about 12 meteors per hour. The Eta Aquarids show is the first week in May and has around 20 meteors per hour at the maximum. The last part of July is the peak for the Delta Aquarids shower with about 35 meteors per hour for a maximum. The Perseids meteor shower overlaps slightly with the Delta Aquarids. It tends to peak around August 12 with a maximum per hour of 68 meteors. The Orionids shower is near the last week in October, peaking around October 21 with a rate of 30 per hour. The Taurids shower is spread out from late October through November. It tends to peak around November 8 with about 12 meteors per hour maximum. The Geminids shower is early December. It peaks around December 14 with a maximum per hour rate of 58 meteors.

Most meteors burn up before reaching the surface of the Earth since most of them are about the size of a grain of sand. The remnants of a meteor that makes it to the surface are called meteorites. Meteorites are typically iron, stony iron, chondrite, carbonaceous chondrite or achondrite. Most of the ones that reach the planet are chondrites, which mean that are similar in composition to the mantle and crust of terrestrial planets. They contain little glassy spheres inside.

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