All of us remember the magic from our youth of wishing upon a falling star and wondering if the star really held some magical power to make our wish come true. As we get older, we begin to ask questions and seek answers—was that really a falling star and what made it fall from the sky?
Those magical streaks of light are most often caused by a meteor shower. The major meteor showers result from comets. Upon approaching the sun, a comet (also referred to as a dirty snowball) is slowly heated until it vaporizes, creating a gaseous tail followed by a trail of small pieces of rock. As the Earth passes through this rock debris, the particles (called meteors) enter Earth’s atmosphere. The meteors that do not disintegrate before making impact with Earth are called meteorites. Approximately 70,000 tons of meteors enter the Earth’s atmosphere each year.
Some of the major meteor showers and the best dates to view them include: Quadrantids (Jan. 1-6), Lyrids (April 19-25), Perseids (Aug. 11-15), Leonids (Nov. 15-20) and Geminids (Dec. 7-15). Brighter and longer meteors may be seen before midnight, with dimmer but more frequent meteors visible well after midnight when Earth is rotating into the main meteor stream.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching a meteor shower, the Perseids meteor shower in mid-August would be a great first experience. Even if these amazing streaks of light aren’t falling stars, an evening spent watching for them is a magical experience never to be forgotten.
Bridget Hinchee, Interpreter, Argyle Lake State Park