Fall’s Five Meteor Showers Are Coming
Get your stargazing gear ready it is that time of year. The five annual fall meteor showers are going to start happening in October. You can see meteors all summer long on occasion, but these five events put on some of the best shows for this time of year. Meteor showers occur when the earth passes through comet or asteroid debris trails. Small pieces of dust and debris burn up in our atmosphere and produce a light show.
The preferred way to view meteor showers is in low light areas, the beach is a good location. Look at the entire sky, not just the point of origin or radiant point. Do not look at your cell phone or other light sources while you are looking for meteors. Your pupils will shrink and you won’t be able to see the subtler stars. Usually the most meteors can be seen after midnight.
Meteors are referred to as shooting stars because of the bright light they emit when burning up in our atmosphere. The color they emit as they burn up depends on their chemical composition as well as their speed. Faster meteors tend to be brighter colors as do the “fireballs” or earth grazers. These are larger meteors that burn up across the atmosphere. Colors will change as the mineral layers burn up or it ignites the atmosphere around it (plasma).
Red (atmospheric nitrogen and oxygen)
The first meteor shower of the fall is the Draconids, usually producing 5-10 meteors/hour. This will peak on October 8th to the 9th. This is one of the few meteor showers that is best viewed in the evening. This is really good for kids on a school night. The shower will peak just before the new moon so it will be much darker for viewing.
The second meteor shower for the fall is the Orionids, which usually produce 20 meteors/hour and peaks on October 21st to the 22nd. This shower is from the debris of Halley’s comet and puts on one of the best shows. The dimmer meteors will be more difficult to see this year due to the nearly full moon light. Moonset is at 4 am so between then and dawn would be small but great window of time for viewing.
The third meteor shower of the fall is the Northern Taurids, producing around 5 meteors/hour and peaks on November 11th tot he 12th. This shower is one that produces some of the more prominent fireballs that will light up the entire sky. There will be long gaps between sightings, just have some patience. Seeing an earth grazer or fireball is worth the wait.
The fourth meteor shower for the fall season is the Leonids, producing 10-20 meteors/hour and will peak on November 17th to the 18th. The moon will affect this shower as well, but after moonset, which is at 2 AM, viewing will be much easier. The Leonids have produced some of the most impressive shows in history. Meteor storms have been observed during the Leonids (every 33 years). A meteor storm “sprays” shooting stars at a rate of hundreds or thousands an hour and lights up the sky. This can last very briefly or for hours. It occurs when earth passes through a concentration of debris left in the path of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The Leonids last peaked in 1999, with bonus peaks in 2001 and 2002
The fifth and final show for the fall season is the Geminids, producing the most at 120+ meteors/hour and will peak on December 13th to the 14th. In 2017 it peaked at 170 meteors per hour. This is my favorite show you spend all nigh oohing and ahhing at the sky. Observers will start seeing meteors just after nightfall, and will increase intensity up to the peak time at 2 AM. Not only one of the most frequent shows but colorful as well.
Get bundled up and set your alarms. If you have early morning work and school, go to bed early and wake up really early. Staying up all night works too, but you will be dragging the next day. Lawn chairs and sleeping bags are my favorite star-gazing tools. Leave the phone in the truck or house. Like fishing, the minute you stop paying attention is when you lose a good sighting.