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A meteor, sometimes called a "shooting star," can be the brightest object in the night sky, yet meteoroids are the smallest bodies in the solar system that can be observed by eye. Wandering through space, perhaps as debris left behind by a comet, meteoroids enter the earth's atmosphere, are heated by friction, and for a few seconds streak across the sky as a meteor with a glowing trail.

A brilliant meteor, called a fireball, may weigh many kilograms, but even a meteor weighing less than a gram can produce a beautiful trail. Some of these visitors from space are large enough to survive (at least partially) their trip through the atmosphere and impact the ground as meteorites. Fireballs are sometimes followed by trails of light that persist for up to 30 minutes; some, called bolides, explode with a loud thunderous sound.

How can a particle the size of a grain of sand produce such a spectacular sight? The answer is the speed at which the meteoroid enters the earth's atmosphere. Many meteoroids travel at 60-70 kilometers per second. As a comparison, the shuttle moves around the earth at about 8 kilometers per second.

During its trip through the atmosphere, meteoroids collide with air molecules, knocking away materials and stripping electrons from the meteor. When the stripped atoms recapture electrons, light is emitted. The color of the light depends on the temperature and the material being "excited."

On almost any night a few meteors an hour will be seen from any one place. However, periodically there are meteor showers, with hundreds of meteors emanating from the same apparent spot in the sky. These showers typically last from a few hours to several days. These showers are usually associated with comet paths, and are caused by debris expelled by the comet.

Each day as many as 4 billion meteors, most miniscule in size, fall to earth. Their masses total several tons, seemingly a large amount, but negligible compared to the earth's total mass of 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons.

Meteor Shower Timetable

Past Showers

NameStartPeakEndRADEC
Quadrantids (QUA)January 1January 3January 5230 deg49 deg-
Cancrids (DCA)January 1January 17January 24130 deg20 degMore Info
Centaurids (ACE)January 28February 7February 21210 deg-59 degMore Info
Leonids (DLE)February 15February 24March 9168 deg16 deg-
Normids (GNO)February 26March 13March 22249 deg-51 degMore Info
Virginids (VIR)January 26March 24April 15195 deg-4 deg-
Lyrids (LYR)April 16April 22April 25271 deg34 deg-
Puppids (PPU)April 15April 24April 28110 deg-45 deg-
Aquarids (ETA)April 19May 5May 28338 deg-1 degMore Info
Sagittarids (SAG)April 15May 19July 15247 deg-22 deg-
June Bootids (JBO)June 26June 27July 2224 deg48 deg-
Pegasids (JPE)July 7July 9July 13340 deg15 degMore Info
July Phoenicids (PHE)July 10July 13July 1632 deg-48 degMore Info
Piscis Austrinids (PAU)July 15July 28August 10341 deg-16 degMore Info
South. Aquarids (SDA)July 12July 28August 19339 deg-30 degMore Info
Capricornids (CAP)July 3July 30August 15307 deg-10 degMore Info
South. Aquarids (SIA)July 25August 4August 15334 deg-15 degMore Info
North. Aquarids (NDA)July 15August 8August 25335 deg-5 degMore Info
Perseids (PER)July 17August 12August 2446 deg58 degMore Info
Cygnids (KCG)August 3August 17August 25286 deg59 deg-
North. Aquarids (NIA)August 11August 19August 31327 deg-6 deg-
Aurigids (AUR)August 25September 1September 884 deg42 degMore Info
Aurigids (DAU)September 5September 9October 1060 deg47 degMore Info
Piscids (SPI)September 1September 19September 305 deg-1 deg-
Draconids (GIA)October 6October 8October 10262 deg54 degMore Info
Epsilon Geminids (EGE)October 14October 18October 27102 deg27 deg-
Orionids (ORI)October 2October 21November 795 deg16 deg-
Southern Taurids (STA)October 1November 5November 2552 deg13 degMore Info
Northern Taurids (NTA)October 1November 12November 2558 deg22 degMore Info
Leonids (LEO)November 14November 17November 21153 deg22 deg-
Monocerotids (AMO)November 15November 21November 25117 deg1 degMore Info
Orionids (XOR)November 26December 2December 1582 deg23 degMore Info
Dec Phoenicids (PHO)November 28December 6December 918 deg-53 degMore Info
Puppid/Velids (PUP)December 1December 7December 15123 deg-45 degMore Info
Monocerotids (MON)November 27December 9December 17100 deg8 degMore Info
Hydrids (HYD)December 3December 12December 15127 deg2 degMore Info
Geminids (GEM)December 7December 14December 17112 deg33 deg-
Coma Berenicids (COM)December 12December 19January 23175 deg25 deg-
Ursids (URS)December 17December 22December 26217 deg76 degMore Info
Additional Information
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