A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

2009 Meteor Showers

If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where you can see the stars, you know that once in a while, you’ll see something very special - the bright mark of a falling star flashing across the sky.  But did you know that during certain times of the year, falling stars will really start coming down in massive numbers?  Sometimes you can see a few per minute!

But first, just what are falling stars?

Surprisingly, many of them are bits of debris not much larger than grains of sand.  Because they are moving so fast, they create a lot of energy when they hit the Earth’s dense atmosphere, and the result is a bright flash in the sky.  Of course, some meteoroids are much larger, and a few have left immense craters on the Earth’s surface.  The actual piece of debris is called a meteoroid, while the bright flash is called a meteor.  If one hits the ground and survives, it’s called a meteorite.  Sometimes you will get a spectacular fireball - this is when a larger piece of debris enters our atmosphere, sometimes breaking up into pieces (forming multiple trails) and sometimes exploding with enough sound that you can hear it on the surface of the Earth!  Knowing these are out there sort of makes us want to stay up all night every night watching for one!

The great news is that we can mark on our calendars when showers are going to occur, and just stay up all night a few times per year =)

Here are some of the best times in 2009 to see some really good displays--

On the nights of April 21st and 22nd, go out to see the Lyrids.  You’ll see some good dust trails that tend to linger for a few seconds.  Sometimes there are ‘bursts’ of up to 100 meteors per hour. It will be a new moon, so the viewing should be good if the clouds stay away.  The best time will be from midnight till dawn, and watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Lyra.

The Eta Aquarids arrive on May 5th and 6th.  The best time to see them will be just before sunrise - get up early!  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Aquarius, near the y-shaped ‘Water Jar’.

The Delta Aquarids arrive on July 28th and 29th.  You’ll see bright, yellow meteors that travel relatively slowly.  Again, get up early, as they favor the hours just before dawn.  Watch for meteors emerging from near the constellation Pegasus.

The Capricornids offer a good chance to see fireballs.  They arrive on July 29th and 30th, right after the Delta Aquarids.  They enter our atmosphere slowly, producing bright, long-lasting burns.  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Capricorn.

The Perseids, arriving August 12th, bring a consistently large number of meteors.  Expect to see over 50 per hour!  Unfortunately, we’ll be up against a waning Gibbous moon.  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Perseus.

The Orionids come on October 21st and 22nd, and since they arrive on a new moon, they could be one of the ‘big ones’ this year.  They don’t produce a high volume of meteors, but the ones you see will often be bright green or yellow in color.  The Orionids are also known for delivering an occasional fireball.  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Orion.

The Leonids peak every 33 years - the last peak was in 2001, so we have a wait before they deliver their full glory again, although some astronomers are hinting that we might have an unusually abundant year in 2009.  Get out to watch on November 17th and 18th, since there will be a new moon and thus a dark sky.  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Leo.  If we do get a meteor storm, this could be a year to remember!  Just before dawn is usually the best time for viewing, but check throughout the night.

The grand finale this year will be the Geminids on the night of December 13th.  You’ll see multi-colored displays streaking out of the sky - red, blue, green, yellow, and white.  Best of all, it’s a near-new moon, and the sky will be plenty dark.  There will be lots of meteors - this could be a regular falling-star party.  Don’t miss this one!  Watch for meteors emerging from the area of the constellation Gemini.

There are other showers throughout the year, and if you go outside on any clear night and watch for a while, you might get lucky and see a stray fireball.  At the very least, you’ll witness a few swift, bright meteors lighting the sky.  I’ll also be posting reminders before each of these showers.  Have fun viewing!

Note:  The Lyrids are upon us!  You might start seeing increased activity as soon as tomorrow evening!

2 Responses to “2009 Meteor Showers”

  1. Cool - nice summary of what to look for this year.

    I’ve only seen fireballs once or twice, but they truly are spectacular.


  2. Aren’t they? For us, we haven’t seen them during showers — just gazing up at an otherwise tranquil sky and then . . . WHOOSH!

    Thanks for the comment, Ted!

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