Meteor Showers

5.7 - Understand the appearance and cause of meteors and meteor showers, including determination of the radiant

Meteors are fragments of dust from comets or asteroids that Earth smashes into as it orbits the Sun. On Earth we see a streak of light or ‘shooting star’.

Meteors are mostly seen after midnight, as that is when the Earth from your location is facing forwards like the front of a car travelling along a road. In fact you could imagine the meteors as bugs that get hit by the forward moving Earth-car!

At different times of year we can see meteor showers which last up to several hours.

They also appear to come from one particular constellation and these showers are named after the constellation.

The meteors are parallel to each other but they seem to come from one point called a radiant. Imagine standing on a bridge over a motorway. You see cars coming to the left and right of you but the lines are parallel. The radiant is the part of the sky from which the meteors are falling from. Tracking where the different meteors originates from gives a location of the radiant.

The best known meteor showers are the Perseids (from the constellation Perseus in August and the Leonids in the constellation Leo), and some can produce up to 100 meteors an hour.

There is another type of meteor 'shower-like-event' - 'sporadic' which occur randomly at all times through the year.

 

Questions
  • Describe the main features of meteor showers.
  • What is a 'radiant'
Animation
Activity

Research at least one meteor shower that takes place every month. You should find out the radiant point and how many meteors can be seen per hour.

Links

Space Weather Latest Meteor Shower information