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Naked-Eye Observing - Meteor Showers

Passing comets and residual debris within the Solar System are the source of recurrent meteor showers. Sometimes a few pieces of debris can enter the atmosphere as a rogue meteor (note that the piece of debris that burns up in the atmosphere is a meteor - a meteorite is the object that survives entry and hits the ground).

The patches of debris result in recurrent meteor showers as the Earth orbits through the debris cloud. Click here to view dates of known meteor showers, as well as the source of the debris.

This image is a good example of what a meteor shower could look like. The camera used was probably "piggy-backed" on a telescope that tracks the motion of the stars (hence the quality of the image). During exposure, meteors trail across the camera's field of view.

This particular image is taken of the Leonids - meaning the center radiant of the meteors apparent origin is from the constellation Leo.

A meteor shower has a "radiant," meaning the meteors appear the emanate from one general location in the night sky. This radiant will correspond to the originating constellation and is named by the origin.

One thing is certain with recurrent meteor showers: it is difficult to predict the exact number of meteors will be seen. For example, they can be very dramatic this year, but sparse next year.

The size of the meteor itself can vary from dust sized to less than the size of a marble. These "large" marble sized meteors could possible reach the Earth's surface. These large meteors can be extremely bright compared to normal meteors; these are called fireballs.

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