Meteor Shower Facts

Meteor showers are an incredible thing to watch. These occur when a large number of meteors are grouped together and appear as “shooting stars.” The meteoroids within the shower are the debris trails that are often left behind when a comet passes.

Geminids meteor shower

When a comet comes into the orbit of the Sun it sheds a lot of the icy and dusty debris, creating a bright stream along the path.

If the Earth is in this path we have the opportunity to see the meteor shower. If you watch it, it almost seems as if they are “raining” from the same area of the sky.

Scientists call the spot of origin the “radiant” and the showers are usually named for the constellation that is closest to the meteor shower region. Examples of this is the Leonid meteor shower. It had a radiant in the Leo constellation.

The Perseid meteor shower was named because the shower fell from near the Perseus constellation point.

Shooting Stars

We call meteors that we see in the night sky both falling stars and shooting stars. These are the bright streaks of light which are meteoroid debris and rocks that are burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Most of these are thirty to eighty miles above ground and can travel at speeds of tens of thousands of miles per hour.Although most burn up, those that do hit the ground are called meteorites.Meteorite chasers go all over the world looking for those that have hit Earth.

They often gather during meteor showers as that is the time that the largest quantity will have a chance to land. There are many meteor showers that have become famous.

Major Meteor Showers

  • Perseid Meteor Shower occurs in the middle of August when the Earth travels though the stream of debris left from the Swift-Tuttle comet. The shower is so spectacular that it can be watched for most of the night.
  • The Leonid Meteor Shower is one of the largest, happening in mid-November when the stream of debris from 55P/Tempel-Tuttle comet is perfectly aligned as Earth enters its path.
  • The Geminids Meteor Shower occurs in December when Earth moves into the stream of debris from the 3200 Phaethon asteroid. People that watch this shower have said that this shower seems to happen more slowly than others.
  • The Lyrids Meteor Shower happens in the later part of April, bringing with it pieces of debris from C/1861 G1 Thatcher comet. It radiates from the Lyra constellation.

Meteor showers have become one of the most popular events to attend around the globe.

Astronomical societies as well as organizations such as NASA bring attention to the showers.

Observatories have special presentations during meteor showers for those that cannot be there in person.

Facts about Meteor showers

  • Almost all of the meteor showers are due to our Earth crossing the path of the debris stream left over from a comet that is closely orbiting.
  • There are two known meteor showers that are not caused by comets, but instead from asteroid debris: Quadrantids shower is thought to be the debris from the 2003 EH1 minor planet, and Geminid meteor shower from the 3200 Phaethon asteroid debris.
  • The most famous comet is 1P/Halley and when Earth crosses the path of its debris we get to see the Orionid Meteor shower in late October.
  • In 1985 Nature created a study to show how rare it is for any human being to be hit by a meteorite. They estimated that a meteorite would hit a person one time every 180 years.
  • The ancient Chinese kept records of many of the celestial occurrences, listing the Perseids meteor shower in 36 AD.
  • Fans that watch meteor showers know that the best time to observe them are in the earliest hours of the morning where the sky is dark and with a moonless sky.


  • What do scientists call the spot of origin for a meteor shower?
  • What are the main contents of most meteor showers?
    debris from comet streams
  • What does Earth have to do for people to see a meteor shower?
    cross the path of a comet stream
  • When you watch a meteor shower, what do people describe it in appearance?
    like raining
  • What are meteors that land on Earth called?
  • In a study, how often did they estimate a person might be struck by a meteorite?
    once every 180 years