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Astronomy

14.1 Meteors

Astronomy14.1 Meteors
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain what a meteor is and why it is visible in the night sky
  • Describe the origins of meteor showers

As we saw in Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System, the ices in comets evaporate when they get close to the Sun, together spraying millions of tons of rock and dust into the inner solar system. There is also dust from asteroids that have collided and broken up. Earth is surrounded by this material. As each of the larger dust or rock particles enters Earth’s atmosphere, it creates a brief fiery trail; this is often called a shooting star, but it is properly known as a meteor.

Observing Meteors

Meteors are tiny solid particles that enter Earth’s atmosphere from interplanetary space. Since the particles move at speeds of many kilometers per second, friction with the air vaporizes them at altitudes between 80 and 130 kilometers. The resulting flashes of light fade out within a few seconds. These “shooting stars” got their name because at night their luminous vapors look like stars moving rapidly across the sky. To be visible, a meteor must be within about 200 kilometers of the observer. On a typical dark, moonless night, an alert observer can see half a dozen meteors per hour. These sporadic meteors—those not associated with a meteor shower (explained in the next section)—are random occurrences. Over the entire Earth, the total number of meteors bright enough to be visible totals about 25 million per day.

The typical meteor is produced by a particle with a mass of less than 1 gram—no larger than a pea. How can we see such a small particle? The light you see comes from the much larger region of heated, glowing gas surrounding this little grain of interplanetary material. Because of its high speed, the energy in a pea-sized meteor is as great as that of an artillery shell fired on Earth, but this energy is dispersed high in Earth’s atmosphere. (When these tiny projectiles hit an airless body like the Moon, they do make small craters and generally pulverize the surface.)

If a particle the size of a golf ball strikes our atmosphere, it produces a much brighter trail called a fireball (Figure 14.2). A piece as large as a bowling ball has a fair chance of surviving its fiery entry if its approach speed is not too high. The total mass of meteoric material entering Earth’s atmosphere is estimated to be about 100 tons per day (which seems like a lot if you imagine it all falling in one place, but remember it is spread out all over our planet’s surface).

A photo of a falling meteor with a trail of light behind it.
Figure 14.2 Fireball. When a larger piece of cosmic material strikes Earth’s atmosphere, it can make a bright fireball. This time-lapse meteor image was captured in April 2014 at the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). The visible trail results from the burning gas around the particle. (credit: modification of work by ESO/C Malin)

Meteor Showers

Many—perhaps most—of the meteors that strike Earth are associated with specific comets. Some of these periodic comets still return to our view; others have long ago fallen apart, leaving only a trail of dust behind them. The dust particles from a given comet retain approximately the orbit of their parent, continuing to move together through space but spreading out over the orbit with time. When Earth, in its travels around the Sun, crosses such a dust stream, we see a sudden burst of meteor activity that usually lasts several hours; such an event is called a meteor shower.

The dust particles and pebbles that produce meteor showers are moving together in space before they encounter Earth. Thus, as we look up at the atmosphere, their parallel paths seem to come toward us from a place in the sky called the radiant. This is the direction in space from which the meteor stream seems to be diverging, just as long railroad tracks seem to diverge from a single spot on the horizon (Figure 14.3). Meteor showers are often designated by the constellation in which this radiant is located: for example, the Perseid meteor shower has its radiant in the constellation of Perseus. But you are likely to see shower meteors anywhere in the sky, not just in the constellation of the radiant. The characteristics of some of the more famous meteor showers are summarized in Table 14.1.

A figure that shows the radiant of a meteor shower. The image on the left is of a series of arrows, labeled “Meteor tracks”, that all diverge from a single cluster of dots in the center, labeled “radiant”. The image on the right is of a set of train tracks fading into the distance.
Figure 14.3 Radiant of a Meteor Shower. The tracks of the meteors diverge from a point in the distance, just as long, parallel railroad tracks appear to do. (credit “tracks”: Nathan Vaughn)
Major Annual Meteor Showers
Shower Name Date of Maximum Associated Parent Object Comet’s Period (years)
Quadrantid January 3–4 2003EH (asteroid)
Lyrid April 22 Comet Thatcher 415
Eta Aquarid May 4–5 Comet Halley 76
Delta Aquarid July 29–30 Comet Machholz
Perseid August 11–12 Comet Swift-Tuttle 133
Orionid October 20–21 Comet Halley 76
Southern Taurid October 31 Comet Encke 3
Leonid November 16–17 Comet Tempel-Tuttle 33
Geminid December 13 Phaethon (asteroid) 1.4
Table 14.1

The meteoric dust is not always evenly distributed along the orbit of the comet, so during some years more meteors are seen when Earth intersects the dust stream, and in other years fewer. For example, a very clumpy distribution is associated with the Leonid meteors, which in 1833 and again in 1866 (after an interval of 33 years—the period of the comet) yielded the most spectacular showers (sometimes called meteor storms) ever recorded (Figure 14.4). During the Leonid storm on November 17, 1866, up to a hundred meteors were observed per second in some locations. The Leonid shower of 2001 was not this intense, but it peaked at nearly a thousand meteors per hour—one every few seconds—observable from any dark viewing site.

A painting of a meteor shower. Thousands of small meteors fall with visible light trails over a waterfall.
Figure 14.4 Leonid Meteor Storm. A painting depicts the great meteor shower or storm of 1833, shown with a bit of artistic license.

The most dependable annual meteor display is the Perseid shower, which appears each year for about three nights near August 11. In the absence of bright moonlight, you can see one meteor every few minutes during a typical Perseid shower. Astronomers estimate that the total combined mass of the particles in the Perseid swarm is nearly a billion tons; the comet that gave rise to the particles in that swarm, called Swift-Tuttle, must originally have had at least that much mass. However, if its initial mass were comparable to the mass measured for Comet Halley, then Swift-Tuttle would have contained several hundred billion tons, suggesting that only a very small fraction of the original cometary material survives in the meteor stream.

No shower meteor has ever survived its flight through the atmosphere and been recovered for laboratory analysis. However, there are other ways to investigate the nature of these particles and thereby gain additional insight into the comets from which they are derived. Analysis of the flight paths of meteors shows that most of them are very light or porous, with densities typically less than 1.0 g/cm3. If you placed a fist-sized lump of meteor material on a table in Earth’s gravity, it might well fall apart under its own weight.

Such light particles break up very easily in the atmosphere, accounting for the failure of even relatively large shower meteors to reach the ground. Comet dust is apparently fluffy, rather inconsequential stuff. NASA’s Stardust mission used a special substance, called aerogel, to collect these particles. We can also infer this from the tiny comet particles recovered in Earth’s atmosphere with high-flying aircraft (see Figure 13.19). This fluff, by its very nature, cannot reach Earth’s surface intact. However, more substantial fragments from asteroids do make it into our laboratories, as we will see in the next section.

Seeing for Yourself

Showering with the Stars

Observing a meteor shower is one of the easiest and most enjoyable astronomy activities for beginners (Figure 14.5). The best thing about it is that you don’t need a telescope or binoculars—in fact, they would positively get in your way. What you do need is a site far from city lights, with an unobstructed view of as much sky as possible. While the short bright lines in the sky made by individual meteors could, in theory, be traced back to a radiant point (as shown in Figure 14.3), the quick blips of light that represent the end of the meteor could happen anywhere above you.

A photo of a meteor.
Figure 14.5 Perseid Meteor Shower. This twenty-second exposure shows a meteor during the 2015 Perseid meteor shower. (credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The key to observing meteor showers is not to restrict your field of view, but to lie back and scan the sky alertly. Try to select a good shower (see the list in Table 14.1) and a night when the Moon will not be bright at the time you are observing. The Moon, street lights, vehicle headlights, bright flashlights, and cell phone and tablet screens will all get in the way of your seeing the faint meteor streaks.

You will see more meteors after midnight, when you are on the hemisphere of Earth that faces forward—in the direction of Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Before midnight, you are observing from the “back side” of Earth, and the only meteors you see will be those that traveled fast enough to catch up with Earth’s orbital motion.

When you’ve gotten away from all the lights, give your eyes about 15 minutes to get “dark adapted”—that is, for the pupils of your eyes to open up as much as possible. (This adaptation is the same thing that happens in a dark movie theater. When you first enter, you can’t see a thing, but eventually, as your pupils open wider, you can see pretty clearly by the faint light of the screen—and notice all that spilled popcorn on the floor.)

Seasoned meteor observers find a hill or open field and make sure to bring warm clothing, a blanket, and a thermos of hot coffee or chocolate with them. (It’s also nice to take along someone with whom you enjoy sitting in the dark.) Don’t expect to see fireworks or a laser show: meteor showers are subtle phenomena, best approached with a patience that reflects the fact that some of the dust you are watching burn up may first have been gathered into its parent comet more than 4.5 billion years ago, as the solar system was just forming.

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