What Makes a Meteor Shower?
Long before cameras, poets have tried to capture the marvel that is a meteor shower. Even in the age of cameras, they still prove hard to catch. Scientists have pondered them in wonderment. Children look for them and point, shriek wide-eyed (1) with surprise. They've been likened with (2) diamonds and darts, pointers and prophecies. These so-called shooting stars are some of the glories of the universe, known to just about everyone. But exactly what causes them is a lesser-known fact. (3)
On a warm summer night, there might be nothing more pleasantly surprising than seeing a "star" shoot across the dark. Suppose, instead, you saw (4) 15 or 20 of these streaking lights, or perhaps a stream of them that went on for half an hour. You will be seeing (5) what scientists call a meteor shower. It would be nice to simply view these showers as the celestial cousins of rain showers, occasional events that start and stop, hopefully lasting long enough for you to catch a photo. Appropriately, (6) they actually have a slightly more complicated origin story when (7) you’re watching a meteor shower, you’re actually bearing witness to Earths’ atmosphere (8) being sprayed with dust from a passing comet.
Comets like other celestial bodies travel in orbits usually elliptical ones. (9) The planets, as we know, also travel in orbits. Earth’s orbit may, every so often, cross the orbit of a comet. To understand what happens when this intersection occurs, one would need to understand something about the structure of a comet. A comet has three main parts: its nucleus, (10) a compressed mass of gas and dust; the coma, a cloud that forms around the nucleus, and the tail, (11) a blazing band of space dust that follows the nucleus on its trajectory. Every so often, the orbit of a comet and the orbit of Earth May cross in such a way that the tail of the comet whips into Earth’s atmosphere. What happens when all that dust enters our atmosphere? Like everything else that enters our atmosphere, the dust burns up and kept (12) shooting through the sky. These meteors generally dissipate before reaching Earth’s surface, but while they last, they look to earthbound stargazers like a rain of shooting stars.
The showers have different names, earned because they happen somewhat regularly and assign (13) based on the constellation they happen to be near. Coincidentally, (14) the Perseids are close to Perseus, while the Geminids are close to Gemini. You can see the appeal of the heavens to poets, who have named their features after the large-than-life figures of myth and legend. The night sky continues to fascinate, as it well should, in both its fact and fantasy. The next time you find your eyes filled with weird sights (15) in the black sky above, know that Earth has rubbed shoulders with one of its transitory celestial neighbors.
You will be seeing what scientists call a meteor shower.
What Makes a Meteor Shower?