The 2011 calendar is chocked full of upcoming celestial goodies and you don’t have to be an astronomer to enjoy them. There’s no need for fancy equipment. All you have to do is look to the heavens on a clear and dark night on the right date, and odds are good that you will witness a spectacular meteor shower.
Quite simply, meteors are debris particles or “space dust” that range in size from a grain of sand to extremely large boulders. For the most part, these debris particles are thrown from comets that orbit our sun. When this debris enters earth’s atmosphere in significant numbers, it is called a meteor shower. Meteors appear to radiate from a point and quickly streak across the sky. Through the centuries meteor showers have been referred to as “shooting stars” or “falling stars.”
Meteor showers tend to appear on a regular basis and are named for the constellation where they occur. For example, the Perseid shower is named for the constellation Perseus.
A few of the most prominent showers, measured by activity and intensity, include the Perseids shower which peaks on August 12-13, and averages 60 meteors in an hour. The Orionids on October 21-22, average about 20 meteors an hour. Look for the Leonids shower on November 17-18, which will display about 40 meteors an hour. The Geminids shower is a colorful, high-frequency shower that will occur on December 13-14, and will include white, yellow, blue, red, and green meteors streaking the night sky.
Enjoy the show and don’t forget to make a wish upon a falling star.