Meteors

Perseid Meteor Shower
Credit: David Kingham

Meteors, sometimes called shooting stars, are not stars at all, but small rocks burning up as they fall through Earth's atmosphere. Their super fast speed through the air causes them to burn up as they fall. 

The best time to observe meteors is during a big meteor shower. Although you might see a few meteors on any clear night. Meteor showers last for several nights. They happen when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by a comet or asteroid. During the peak of a good shower, you may see as many as 100 meteors in an hour! However, on a typical night, you will probably see 6 meteors per hour. Extremely bright meteors often leave an afterglow along their trail, called a train.

Each day, 100 tonnes of rocks and dust enter our atmosphere. Luckily, most of these objects are so small that they burn up completely before reaching the ground. They are too small to be a danger. Some rocks are big enough that they do not get totally burnt up and reach the Earth's surface. Space rocks that land on the ground are called meteorites.

Most meteorites are pieces of asteroid. Though a few have come from the Moon and Mars! Meteorites contain a lot more metals than Earth rocks. This makes them more dense, so they will feel heavier than you expect them to be. The outside of a meteorite is usually smooth and black. This is called the fusion crust. It is made when the outside of the rock get hots and melts as it falls.

Plan your meteor spotting

You need dark skies! The less light around you the better, so try to move well away from buildings and street lights. Also, check the phase of the Moon! A bright full Moon will spoil your chances of seeing meteors. You can check today's phase of the Moon on our homepage. Make sure to wear warm clothes and be patient, you might not see any on your first try!

Calendar of Meteor Showers

Meteor Shower Dates of Activity Date of Peak Description
Quadrantids 27th December – 10th January 2nd – 3rd January One of the best showers but with a very short peak of only a few hours.
Lyrids 16th - 25th April 22nd April About 10 to 15 meteors per hour at the shower’s peak, with a dark sky.
Eta Aquariids 19th April - 20th May 4th - 6th May Halley’s comet is the source of the Eta Aquariid meteor shower.
Delta Aquariids 12th July - 23rd August 27th - 30th July Observers in the Southern hemisphere will get the best views.
Perseids 12th July - 23rd August 11th - 13th August Usually the most enjoyed meteor shower for the Northern Hemisphere.
Draconids 6th - 8th October 7th October Usually not more than 5 meteors per hour but in 2011 there were over 600!
Orionids 2nd October - 7th November 20th - 22nd October These meteors are debris from Comet Halley.
South Taurids 25th September - 25th November 4th - 5th November This shower has a high percentage of fireballs (very bright meteors)
North Taurids 11th - 12th November 12th October - 2nd December Meteors in this shower are often slow moving, but sometimes very bright.
Leonids 5th – 30th November 16th – 17th November Bright with trains. Debris from the comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle
Geminids 4th – 17th December 13th – 14th December Usually the strongest meteor shower of the year for the Northern Hemisphere.
Ursids 16 – 25 December 21 – 22 December Only a few meteors per hour. Debris from the comet 8P/Tuttle