Meteor Shower Basics

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Who doesn’t love a meteor shower? Chunks of cosmic rock and ice hurling across the sky at tens of thousands of miles per hour are a spectacular sight if for no other reason than the fact that you feel very small in the spectrum of the universe at large. They also make you feel just a little more vulnerable on little planet Earth nestled in a intergalactic shooting gallery. Spotting a meteor, or what appears to be a meteor is a pretty common occurrence. While meteor showers usually occur and specific times of the year, one can spot a fragment of comet blasting across the sky all of the time. It’s just about looking in the right place on a clear night. Spectacular meteor showers are an annual occurrence and are very impressive to see, especially is the shower results in meteorites impacting the ground.

Meteor showers are named after the constellation of origins and recur each year with many of the showers best seen from the Northern hemisphere. In February of 2013, a large meteorite struck the ground in Russia, causing a few deaths and widespread property damage. This culmination of a meteor shower was a large impact in a remote northern part of the country. Typically, meteor showers don’t result in a meteorite impact, but if you happen to be in the right (or wrong) place you may witness an actual impact.

Many annual meteor showers produce dozens to hundreds of meteors at a time. The Lyrid meteor shower occurs in April and often features bright meteors with long tails. These can be some of the most spectacular meteor showers since the meteors often produce fireballs and long tails of dust of rock and ice. Since most meteor showers occur above the equator, the Northern hemisphere is usually a better location to observe a shower. There are, however, showers that are better observed from the Southern hemisphere. During the winter in the Southern hemisphere, Alpha Centaurids, Gamma Normids, and Delta Aquarids showers are highly visible in the southern skies.

Throughout the year and at different points in the sky you can see meteor showers originating from different constellations. Two of the biggest producers are the Leonid and Perseus. These are visible in the Northern hemisphere in late summer and are often characterized by raining displays of meteors shooting across the sky. In general, however, any meteor shower, no matter how small, is impressive. Obviously since they last mere seconds, the more meteors, the better. Fragments of rock and debris traversing across and vaporizing in the Earth’s atmosphere, catching ablaze is an impressive sight no matter what the name of the constellation is that brought the meteors. Since most rocks and debris burn up in the atmosphere long before coming near the ground, some very large pieces make it through the incineration and strike the ground. These kinds of meteor showers are always the most impressive.

by Ben Vaughn

Ben Vaughn writes on meteor showers, filing insurance claims for unlikely occurrences like drive by shootings, bear attacks, and meteorite property damage.

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Chris Chapman

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