what is meteor shower

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Meteor showers are known as the bright effects that occur when particles from the solar system hit the Earth's atmosphere. The light trails visible for 3 to 5 seconds in the night sky are caused by ionization of atmospheric gases and frictional heating between them and particles. Many people do not know well what is meteor shower and how it is formed.

For this reason, we are going to dedicate this article to telling you what the meteor shower is, what its characteristics are and its importance.

what is meteor shower

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Like the construction of any human building, the formation of the solar system left remains still under the influence of its powerful gravitational pull. And that doesn't include all the footage captured since then. Near the solar system, beyond the limits of Pluto, they are inhabited by celestial bodies such as comets and asteroids.

When one of these ventures close to the sun, almost always a periodic comet, the gravitational interactions are so strong that some of its mass is lost, leaving behind a trail of orbiting matter. The remaining particles range in size from microscopic particles to large clumps of matter, say, about 100 kilometers in size, called meteoroids. Every time the Earth approaches and intercepts the orbits of comets, the probability of finding them increases.

Meteorites penetrate the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds, constantly colliding with atoms and molecules along their path and giving up some of their kinetic energy. Another part causes the heating of the meteoroid itself.

At an altitude of about 100 kilometers, the ionization of the atmosphere leaves a brief bright trail, what we consider a "shooting star" or "meteor shower". Heating almost always results in complete evaporation of the body, but if it is very large, one or more fragments, a fireball or fireball, manage to hit the ground.

Comet debris is the source of almost all known meteor showers. An exception is the Geminid meteor shower, the shower left over after the breakup of asteroid 3200 Phaeton.

Main meteor showers and their characteristics

what is the shower of stars

Meteor showers can be seen occasionally on any given night because the space through which Earth orbits is full of particles whose paths can be almost arbitrary.

The most dramatic meteor showers occur during the year when Earth passes through the orbit of a broken comet, and large numbers of stars are observed following a path that converges at a specific point in the sky: the radiant. This is the perspective effect.

In addition to radiance, meteor showers are also characterized by the observable star hourly rate, or zenith hourly rate (THZ), which can vary depending on the geographic location of the observer and other factors, such as ambient lighting. There are programs on the Internet that can calculate its value. Finally, there is the distribution of magnitudes observed in rainfall, known as the population index.

Among the showers of stars with well-defined trajectories are the Perseids, So named because its radiant is in the constellation Perseus and is visible in early August.

Another very attractive meteor shower is the Leonids, which are observable in November and shine in the constellation of Leo. Total, there are about 50 clusters named after the constellation where the nearest and brightest star or radiant is found.

The main meteor showers are those with a high number of meteors/hour, and they cross the night sky year after year, appearing regularly for hundreds of years. Below is a list of expected dates, along with a guide to better enjoy them in the future.

Main meteor showers and their observation times

what is the shower of stars in the sky

The largest showers last for days or weeks as the planet moves, while the largest hourly meteors occur on a specific day or two at most. Although this is an arbitrary limit, when the count is greater than 10 meteors/hour, it is considered a great meteor shower.

Some rains are always of the same intensity, while others intensify from time to time, such as the Leonids every 33 years, even reaching the category of starbursts with a rate of 1000 or more meteors per hour. Most meteor showers are clearly visible from both hemispheres, although some may be better seen from one or the other, depending on the radiation.

Rains with better visibility in the northern hemisphere

  • Perseids (Perseus, July 16 to August 24, peak August 11 to 13, 50 to 100 meteors per hour, originating from Comet Swift-Tuttle).
  • Leonidas (Leo, November 15-21, maximum November 17-18, its origin is the Temple-Tuttle comet, the number of stars per hour varies, generally between 10 and 15. 1833, 1866 and 1966 with a maximum of several thousand of meteors per minute).
  • Quadrantids (Boero constellation, end of December to first week of January, maximum from January 3 to 4, more than 100 meteors per hour, source uncertain)
  • Lyra (Lyra, moderate meteor shower visible from April 16 to 25, 10-20 meteors per hour, coming from Comet Thatcher 1861).
  • Orionid meteor shower (Orion, October, maximum around October 21, 10-20 meteors per hour, left by Halley's comet).
  • Geminids(Gemini, maximum December 13-14, 100-120 meteors/hour, created by the asteroid 3200 Phaeton).
  • Draconids (the constellation of dragons, they experience a maximum between October 8 and 9, more than 10 meteors/hour, the comet of origin is Giacobinie-Zinner).
  • Taurus (Taurus, Comet Encke's southern Taurus is expected to have a maximum around November 11 and northern Taurus around November 13-14.)

Rains with better visibility in the southern hemisphere

Some meteor showers, such as the Perseids and Orionids, can be seen in the southern sky, although a little further down the horizon, a secluded spot with clear skies is required. The following can be seen high up in the southern hemisphere, especially during the winter months of July, August, and September:

  • Eta Aquarids (Aquarius, visible April-May, maximum May 5-6, more than 20 meteors per hour, associated with Halley's Comet).
  • Delta Aquarids (Aquarius, from the beginning of July to the end of August, maximum around July 29-30, more than 10 meteors per hour, associated with comet 96p Machholz 1).
  • Alpha Capricorns (Capricornids, maximum between July 27 and 28, source uncertain)

I hope that with this information you can learn more about what the meteor shower is and what its characteristics are.


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