Astronomical Information

Meteor Showers and Comets

Meteor Showers & Comets

Meteors are tiny specks of rock and metal that enter Earth’s atmosphere so quickly that friction with the thin atmosphere sixty miles up heats the surrounding gases until they glow, making a streak we see in the sky. The meteor flashes across the sky in seconds, and whatever debris remains falls to the earth below.

Most of the shooting stars we see are from sand-grain-sized particles called meteoroids. Sometimes larger objects enter the atmosphere making brilliant streaks across the sky. If they explode in a flash at the end of their journey they are called bolides. If they survive the fall and are recovered from the ground they are called meteorites.

Meteor showers occur at the same time each year. They occur when Earth crosses a stream of meteoroids orbiting the sun. These streams are along the paths of comets. The meteoroids are bits of dust lifted off the comets as they passed near the sun.

Meteor shower dates

Comets are described by astronomers as dirty snowballs. The core of a comet is a mixture of frozen gases and water with dust grains spread throughout. Astronomers think comets are leftover material from the formation of our solar system.

Comets are occasionally seen in the night sky. There are often comets you can see with binoculars, but only rarely does a comet become bright enough to see without optical aid.