• Question: What causes meteor showers and is it dangerous?

    Asked by trin_ to Triona, Shikha, Kevin, Colin on 19 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Colin Johnston

      Colin Johnston answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      Meteor showers are not at all dangerous! This is good as there are dozens of regular showers every year. They happen when the Earth moves through the meteoroid stream of particles left from comets. Comets are rock and ice, as sunlight vaporises their ice these particles stream into space and get spread around the comet’s orbital path.

      The particles are tiny pieces of natural space debris, bits of rock and metal about the size of sand grains.

      They burn up in the atmosphere about 100km (62 miles) above the ground and can be a fantastic sight.

    • Photo: Kevin Motherway

      Kevin Motherway answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      When the earth’s orbit passes through a cloud of dust, perhaps the remnants of a comet tail the all those little particles get captured by the earth’s gravity and accelerated toward our atmosphere at speeds of about 20,000 km/hr. When those high speed dust particles hit the atmosphere all their kinetic energy gets converted to heat/light as they burn up due to the friction with the molecules of air in the upper atmosphere. So at certain points every year we pass through these clouds and get a great light show (if we don’t have a bright full moon drowning the show out). The meteor showers are named after constellations as it looks like the originate in parts of the sky where those constellations are in the sky, but it has nothing to do with those constellations! So the Leonid meteor showers look like they originate from constellation Leo, the Orionids from Orion etc. They’re a completely harmless light show as dust can’t really hurt us. Bigger Meteors can arrive completely out of the blue at any time like the big one over Russia 2 years ago.
      Just a note on language:
      Meteroid: A small body moving in the solar system before it enters Earth’s atmosphere
      Meteor; any small solid extraterrestrial bodies that enters Earth’s atmosphere
      Meteorite: A piece of stone or metallic object that remains from a meteor and has landed on the surface of the Earth.

    • Photo: Shikha Sharma

      Shikha Sharma answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      Hi trin _

      A meteor shower occurs when the debris of dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter the Earth’s atmosphere at very high speed. When these particles hit the atmosphere, meteors rub against air particles and create friction, which results in heating these meteors to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, the heat changes most of the meteors into vapors. For example, the Orionid meteor shower happens when the earth passes through a cloud of debris left by Halley’s comet. You know the brightest and most remarkable is the Leonid meteor shower or King of Meteor Showers. It can produce a meteor storm that showers the earth with thousands of meteors per minute at its peak. I wish I could see this Leonid meteor shower. A standard meteor shower is not dangerous. They are something to go out and watch and enjoy. 🙂 🙂