Those who have seen them know them more as flashing streaks of light in the skies overhead. Sometimes sparks trail from the head as it shoots across the sky.
Could is be an intergalactic visitor? The start of an extraterrestrial invasion?
Nope — they’re meteors, and Earth is getting a triple feature meteor show that will last into mid-December, just in time for the holidays.
Some people refer to meteors as shooting stars, but they are not really stars at all. They start out floating around in space as something called a meteoroid, which can range in size from as small as a speck of dust to something much larger (but not big enough to be an asteroid), according to the website mental_floss.
The meteoroid becomes a meteor, according to mental_floss, once it enters our planet’s atmosphere and begins to burn up. If anything survives that fiery fall, it is a meteorite.
By the way, mental_floss states 25 million meteoroids hit our planet’s atmosphere daily; few survive as meteorites.
The North Taurid meteor shower is well under way, with the peak activity in the hours just after midnight Sunday, Nov. 11, and again Monday, Nov. 12. The North Taurid display, according to the website EarthSky, generates about 10 slow-moving meteors an hour, and the Taurid meteors are known for producing more spectacular fireball displays than other meteor showers. Lay on your back, relax and watch the night sky, EarthSky recommends.
The next show, the Leonid meteor shower, peaks Saturday, Nov. 17, according to Astronomy.com. The Leonid showers have been very good the past several years. Still, Astronomy.com points out that no one really knows how good this year’s showers will be — they could “range from a few meteors up to dozens of meteors per hour at the peak.”
The Leonids travel much more rapidly than the Taurids, and the Leonid showers peak before dawn. The direction to look depends on the time of night, according to Astronomy.com, which advises, “after sunset, face generally east and look one-third to one-half of the way up in the sky. … Between moonset (10 p.m.) and about 2 a.m., look overhead. And after 2 a.m., aim your gaze halfway up in the western sky.”
The next one one, the Geminid meteor shower, peaks before sunset on Dec. 13, although good viewing is predicted in the predawn hours of Dec. 14, according to MagicValley.com. The Geminid is the strongest meteor shower of the year, producing two meteors per minute. Many of the Geminid meteors are bright.
- Video: How to observe meteor showers, with Michael E. Bakich, senior editor at Astronomy.com.