Meteor shower

A Geminid meteor.
Image Credit: Jimmy Westlake
Whether you're watching from a downtown area
or the dark countryside, here are some tips to
help you enjoy these celestial shows of shooting
stars. Those streaks of light are really caused by
tiny specks of comet-stuff hitting Earth's
atmosphere at very high speed and disintegrating
in flashes of light.
First a word about the moon - it is not the
meteor watcher's friend. Light reflecting off a
bright moon can be just as detrimental to good
meteor viewing as those bright lights of the big
city. There is nothing you can do except howl at
the moon, so you'll have to put up with it or wait
until the next favorable shower.
The best thing you can do to maximize the
number of meteors you'll see is to get as far
away from urban light pollution as possible and
find a location with a clear, unclouded view of
the night sky. If you enjoy camping, try planning
a trip that coincides with dates of one of the
meteor showers listed below. Once you get to
your viewing location, search for the darkest
patch of sky you can find, as meteors can
appear anywhere overhead.
The meteors will always travel in a path away
from the constellation for which the shower is
named. This apparent point of origin is called the
"radiant." For example, meteors during a Leonid
meteor shower will appear to originate from the
constellation Leo. (Note: the constellation only
serves as a helpful guide in the night's sky. The
constellation is not the actual source of the
meteors. For an overview of what causes meteor
showers click here: Meteor Showers: Shooting for
Shooting Stars )
Whether viewing from your front porch or a
mountaintop, be sure to dress for success. This
means clothing appropriate for cold overnight
temperatures, which might include mittens or
gloves, and blankets. This will enable you to
settle in without having to abandon the meteor-
watching because your fingers are starting to
turn blue.
Next, bring something comfortable on which to
sit or lie down. While Mother Nature can put on a
magnificent celestial display, meteor showers
rarely approach anything on the scale of a July
4th fireworks show. Plan to be patient and watch
for at least half an hour. A reclining chair or
ground pad will make it far more comfortable to
keep your gaze on the night sky.
Lastly, put away the telescope or binoculars.
Using either reduces the amount of sky you can
see at one time, lowering the odds that you'll see
anything but darkness. Instead, let your eyes
hang loose and don't look in any one specific
spot. Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any
movement up above, and you'll be able to spot
more meteors. Avoid looking at your cell phone
or any other light. Both destroy night vision. If
you have to look at something on Earth, use a
red light. Some flashlights have handy
interchangeable filters. If you don't have one of
those, you can always paint the clear filter with
red fingernail polish.
These meteor showers provide casual meteor
observers with the most bang for their buck.
They are the easiest to observe and most active.
Major Meteor Showers (2014)
Quadrantids
Comet of Origin: 2003 EH1
Radiant: constellation Bootes
Active: Dec. 28, 2013–Jan.12, 2014
Peak Activity: Jan. 2-3, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 80 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 25.5 miles (41 kilometers) per
second
Notes: The thin crescent moon will set at dusk,
providing moon-free darkness ideal for meteor
watching. Note: This shower has a very sharp
peak, usually only lasting a few hours, and is
often obscured by winter weather. The greatest
numbers of meteors are expected in the early
morning hours before dawn.
Lyrids
Comet of Origin: C/1861 G1 Thatcher
Radiant: constellation Lyra
Active: April 16-25, 2014
Peak Activity: April 21-22, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 20 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 30 miles (49 kilometers) per
second
Notes: Light from the gibbous moon will be very
problematic, as there are few bright meteors in
this stream. Try watching this meteor shower
during the early morning of April 23. Lyrid
meteors often produce luminous dust trains
observable for several seconds.
Eta Aquariids
Comet of Origin: 1P Halley
Radiant: constellation Aquarius
Active: April 19-May 28, 2014
Peak Activity: May 5-6, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 45 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 44 miles (66 kilometers) per
second
Notes: The moon will set just after midnight,
leaving dark skies for what should be a good
show. Some meteors may be visible for a few
days before and after May 6 due to the broad
peak of this shower. Most of the activity is seen
in the Southern Hemisphere.
Southern Delta Aquariids
Comet of Origin: unknown, 96P Machholz
suspected
Radiant: constellation Aquarius
Active: July 12-Aug. 23, 2014
Peak Activity: July 28-29, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 20 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 25 miles (41 kilometers) per
second
Notes: It should be a good year for the Southern
Delta Aquariids; the show occurs during a new
moon. The best time to view will be from a dark
location after midnight.
Perseids
Comet of Origin: 109P/Swift-Tuttle
Radiant: constellation Perseus
Active: July 17-Aug. 24, 2014
Peak Activity: Aug. 12-13, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: Up to 100 meteors
per hour
Meteor Velocity: 37 miles (59 kilometers) per
second
Notes: The Perseid meteor shower is known as
one of the best meteor showers to observe,
producing fast and bright meteors that frequently
leave trains, but in 2014, a nearly full moon will
upstage the show.
Orionids
Comet of Origin: 1P/Halley
Radiant: Just to the north of constellation
Orion's bright star Betelgeuse
Active: Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2014
Peak Activity: Oct. 21-22, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 20 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 41 miles (66 kilometers) per
second
Notes: With no moon to interfere with the dark
skies, 2014 promised to be a favorable year for
viewing the meteor shower. The Orionids, formed
from the debris of Halley’s comet, are known for
being bright and quick meteors.
Leonids
Comet of Origin: 55P/Tempel-Tuttle
Radiant: constellation Leo
Active: Nov. 6-30, 2014
Peak Activity: Nov. 17-18, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 15 meteors per hour
Meteor Velocity: 44 miles (71 kilometers) per
second
Notes: The waning crescent moon should leave
skies dark enough for a good show. The Leonids
are usually a modest shower, with the peak
occurring in the dark hours before dawn.
Geminids
Comet of Origin: 3200 Phaethon
Radiant: constellation Gemini
Active: Dec. 4-17, 2013
Peak Activity: Dec. 13-14, 2014
Peak Activity Meteor Count: 120 meteors per
hour
Meteor Velocity: 22 miles (35 kilometers) per
second
Notes: The Geminids are typically one of the
best and most reliable of the annual meteor
showers. This shower is considered one of the
best opportunities for younger viewers who don’t
stay up late, because it gets going around 9 or
10 p.m. local time. This year, the last quarter
moon will rise around midnight, making the prime
time for viewing the first half of the night.

By: NASA.GOV

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