September Lesson

     What are meteor showers? Most people call them shooting stars. They are in fact, debris fields left in space by passing comets  and asteroids. Meteor showers are recorded in history back 2500 years, such as the Lyrid Meteor Shower. The amount of meteors that can be observed is a function of mass of the originating comet or asteroid.  Big comets with long tails leave a large meteoroid stream, especially if they are short period comets.  As a comet enters the inner solar system, the solar wind boils off material from the nucleus of the comet and by doing so a tail forms. A Gemini shower can and does produce at times large meteors as the material has a higher density, however most meteor showers are the size microns of dust or the size of a grain of sand.

    Meteor showers are classified as meteor shower, meteor swarm, and meteor storm.

    The radiant of a meteor shower is assigned to the particular constellations that it appears to come from.  It is a reference only to locate where to look.  The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the probable number of meteors observed per hour from a meteor shower that has a radiant in the observer’s zenith.

     A lot of factors such as weather, phase of moon and selected viewing sight, are involved when observing meteor showers.  Ideally, a country setting, free from light pollution and a new moon with a chilly night is my personal preference.  Equipment required: a chair or sleeping bag, warm clothes, and nothing else.  Simply look up at the radiant or constellation and enjoy the celestial show.

    I had the fortunate experience to witness the 1966 Leonid Storm from the middle of the Pacific Ocean with clear dark skies and an absent moon.  The meteors were coming in at 20/25 per second, some leaving contrails in the upper atmosphere and a few Bolides (When larger than normal size meteors make it through the upper atmosphere and collide with the denser lower atmosphere; the pressure can cause them to explode.)

     An average meteor that burns up in the atmosphere can be from 130KM (80 miles) to 65KM (40 miles) where they light up for us to see.  Their speeds can vary from 36KPS (31 miles per second) to 65 KPS (40 miles per second), depending on weather they are catching up with us on our orbital speed, 107.892 KPH (66.600 MPH), or we collide head on for a tremendous relative speed.

    We have provided you with a list of meteor showers & dates.  Plan to witness these special celestial treats.

    Oh, by the way, bring along a portable FM Radio for the meteor shower and tune your radio to a station well over the horizon.  If you can stand the static, it will be worth it when you hear a radio meteor.  It will whistle through the speakers of the radio.  Not only do you get to see them, but now you can hear them.  COOL!