What are Meteor Showers?
Meteor showers are celestial events when a large number of meteors are visible in the sky. They happen each year. Meteor showers are distinguished from other meteor events by having a special point from which all meteors seem to come from. And that specific point is called a radiant.
They typically happen when Earth passes through an area that is heavily populated with asteroids and meteoroids. The area, known as a meteoroid stream, can be also very large, with thousands of thousands of meteoroids and micrometeoroids. That heap of meteoroids and similar celestial rocky bodies crash into our atmosphere at high speed. As there are many of them, and each look like a bright star, the scientists and amateurs alike have named it a shower of meteors.
As science slowly progressed, we learned that meteor showers usually come from a certain comet. For example, some of the most famous meteor showers are meteoroids that are leftovers from a comet that passed there several centuries ago.
What is a Meteor Storm?
Meteor storms are a heavy meteor shower. A truly spectacular event, meteor storm is distinguished from other celestial events by the massive numbers of meteors in the sky. Just like with real rains and storms, meteor showers can last up to several days. However, storms are short-term events that produce a colossal number of meteors visible in the sky.
While meteor showers can last several days, storms are short outbursts of meteors. Storms typically occur when Earth encounters a rather massive group of cometary debris (i.e. meteoroids). Storms are also associated with young meteoroid streams. What does that mean? That means that the concentration of debris (meteoroids) in the stream is high, and they all still cling to the orbit of the parent comet. When Earth encounters their orbit and vice versa, the results are small space fragments and rocks entering our atmosphere and vaporizing. Some storms happen periodically, while others are more of a singular nature, i.e. occur only once. The event can last for only a couple of hours, which makes them highly exclusive and sought-after events in the astronomical community.
Meteor storms are associated with two meteor showers – Leonids and Andromedids. Both events happen in November. Leonids are showers that yield prolific storms every 33 years but appear as a moderate shower each year.
When do Meteor Showers happen?
As you might guess, numerous meteor showers occur throughout the year. Each shower is associated with a particular comet, hence the time of the shower depends on the time of the year when we pass the comet’s orbit.
Here is a detailed overview of the interesting meteor showers that you can hunt for each year:
|Period of Expected Activity
|Relative Meteor Speed
|Jan 01-Jan 05
|Jan 28-Feb 21
|Jan 25-Apr 15
|Apr 16-Apr 25
|Medium to Strong
|Apr 15-Apr 28
|Apr 19-May 28
|Apr 15-Jul 15
|Jul 10-Jul 16
|Jul 15-Aug 10
|Jul 12-Aug 19
|Jul 17-Aug 24
|Aug 25-Sep 05
|Sep 05-Oct 10
|Oct 06-Oct 10
|Oct 02-Nov 07
|Oct 01-Nov 25
|Oct 01-Nov 25
|Nov 14-Nov 21
|Nov 15-Nov 25
|Nov 28-Dec 09
|Dec 01-Dec 15
|Dec 07-Dec 17
|Dec 12-Jan 23
|Dec 17-Dec 26
Bear in mind that the dates are not fixed. From year to year, the shower period might change, so you must track the desired shower. And don’t forget to check regularly with us, as we will make sure to keep you posted for all things related to meteors!
What are Leonids?
Leonids are the annual meteor showers associated with the Tempel–Tuttle comet. These celestial events are perhaps the most famous meteor showers in the astronomical community. In 1833, the massive shower sparked great interest in the society for astronomy. By careful examination, it was soon discovered that the event is repetitive, i.e. happens each year. However, Olmsted figured out that in 1799 the same event happened – but the concentration of meteors was much higher. He concluded that a full-blown storm occurs every 33 years thanks to the comet’s orbit. It takes 33 years for the parent comet to complete a full circle around the Sun. As the comet goes around the Sun, it leaves a wide stream of dust, rubble, and rock. During our orbit, we encounter that stream of debris that enters our atmosphere and burns out high in the sky.
The most prolific meteor shower (it was a storm) happened in 1966 when approximately 144,000 meteors fell in one single hour. That means that around 40 meteors per second appeared in the sky. Astronomers continued close observations of the shower in 1998 when another massive storm was expected. However, it happened in 2002, but it was not even close to the one from 1966. Even though the showers from 1998-2002 cannot be classified as storms, they still provided a lot of material for research. As the rule for naming meteor showers dictates they are named after the radiant’s constellation position, Leonids’ constellation is Leo. The next major Leonid Shower is expected in 2035.
Leonid Observations were among the first official observations of meteor showers to be recorded. What is more, they are ranked among the most interesting ones. The fact that they provide prolific meteor outbursts every 33 years with steady annual showers is appealing to both professionals and amateurs. Scientists all over the world carefully track each shower activity as they provide insights crucial for understanding space. And even though we have known about Leonids for over a century, there is still much to discover.
If you want to go back into the past and explore past observations of Leonid showers, you can visit the American Meteor Society. There you will find interesting articles about the history of Leonid Showers. European Space Agency also has articles related to 1998-1999 Leonid observations. They have a special corner dedicated to Leonids and their unpredictable nature that amazes astronomers worldwide.
There is much to uncover and learn about space rocks. So, if you want to inform about Leonid meteor showers and dates for the upcoming shower, visit the American Meteor Society (AMS). The site also provides astonishing information about each shower, so you can explore even the minor and lesser-known showers. They also publish a shower calendar for each year. That is great if you plan to prepare for observations.
AMS also hosts numerous observation programs, much like ESA (European Space Agency) who even has an educational section reserved for space fans. Moreover, another inexhaustible source of information and entertainment is the International Meteor Organization (IMO). There you can explore their observation methods, or even enter the fireball programs. They make sure to keep track of every major shower and update their findings regularly.
NASA also posts updates and findings of Leonids frequently. If you wish to explore databases with historical information that you cannot otherwise find anywhere else, visit Astrophysics Data System. There you can browse endless publications and papers on virtually any topic. Once you finish up with extensive research, you might want to dive into up-to-date news and articles about events happening right now. The Armagh Observatory and Planetarium will undoubtedly provide you with everything you need in that aspect. There’s an excellent blog with updated facts about each on-going meteor shower – and many other things!