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Shooting Stars

Summer Nights

21 June 2011
Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.
We have a lot to look forward to this summer. Warm weather, vacations, gatherings ... Just don't forget to look up.

Full of so many wondrous things, the night sky is particularly entertaining this time of year. You can enjoy your own "space-show" by watching a meteor shower this summer.

When comets come around the sun they leave a dusty trail of bits. These "bits" are potential meteors. Every year the Earth passes through the comet trails, which allows the bits to enter our atmosphere where they burn up and create fiery and colorful streaks -- much like distant fireworks -- in the sky.

On any given night several shooting stars, or meteors, per hour can usually be seen blazing across our sky, but there are some heavier actual storms coming your way this summer, particularly the Perseids in mid-August. You can also view the Delta Aquarids, which will peak 28 - 29 July, and the Capricornids 29 - 30 July. The Perseids will peak (with about 60 meteors per hour!) 12 - 13 August. Although be aware that coinciding with the Perseids peak this year is a full Moon, so you may want to start watching for the Perseids when you are viewing the Delta Aquarids. There won't be as many then, but they will have started and it should still be a good show.

Look below for some great shots of meteors and consider taking your own sky photography of your meteor viewing experience. (7 images total)

Perseid Meteor Shower
Perseid Meteor Shower: This bright and colorful meteor flashed through skies over Japan during the peak of the Perseids meteor shower in 2004. Perseid meteors fly out of the constellation Perseus. The best time to watch is during the hours before sunrise when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky

Image Credit and Copyright: Katsuhiro Mouri & Shuji Kobayashi (Nagoya City Science Museum/Planetarium)

Earthgrazer: Above is a colorful example of a Perseid meteor (from the Perseid meteor shower of 1993). This type of meteor is known as an "Earthgrazer." Earthgrazers enter the sky from below the horizon, skim the atmosphere horizontally and leave a colorful and long trail. Earthgrazer meteors are seen in the early night, just after 9 p.m. Even though the colors in this image have been enhanced, they are representative of the colors seen when the meteor streaked across the sky.

Image Credit and Copyright: S. Kohle & B. Koch (Astron. I., U. Bonn)

Geminids and Taurids
Left: Star trails create many circles in this image, but if you look towards the center you will see a Geminid meteor. Geminids peak every year in mid-December. The Geminids are not ordinary meteors. While most meteor showers come from comets, Geminids come from an asteroid -- a near-Earth object named 3200 Phaethon. Asteroids don't normally spew dust into space. Evidence suggests 3200 Phaethon used to be a comet.

Image Credit and Copyright: Jimmy Westlake

Right: During late October and early November Earth passes through the debris of Comet Encke and we get the Taurids meteor shower. These meteors are called Taurids because they shoot out of the constellation Taurus. Sometimes the Taurids are bigger and brighter than usual meteors. These brighter meteors are known as "fireballs."

Credit: Hiroyuki Iida of Toyama, Japan.

Leonids Meteor Shower: Leonid meteors seen from 39,000 feet aboard an aircraft during the 1999 Leonids Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign (Leonid-MAC). Comet Tempel-Tuttle provides the cometary debris for the Leonid meteor storm, which takes place in mid-November.

Credit: NASA/ISAS/Shinsuke Abe and Hajime Yano

Orionid Meteor Shower: The above image shows brilliant multiple meteor streaks that can all be connected to a single point in the sky just above the belt of Orion, called the "radiant." The Orionids take place in mid-October and the parent comet is Halley. Comet Halley is actually responsible for two known meteor showers: The other is the Eta Aquarids, which are visible every May.

Image Credit and Copyright: Tunc Tezel

Alpha-Monocerotid meteors
Meteor Outburst: These bright blue and yellow streaks are Alpha-Monocerotid meteors from 1995. Alpha-Monocerotids peak in mid-November, but they are very rare and are only seen three to four times every century.

Credit: S. Molau and P. Jenniskens, NASA-ARC

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Last Updated: 27 Jun 2011