A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors are observed to radiate, or originate, from one point in the night sky. These meteors are caused by streams of cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth’s atmosphere at extremely high speeds on parallel trajectories.
Most meteors are smaller than a grain of sand, so almost all of them disintegrate and never hit the Earth’s surface. Very intense or unusual meteor showers are known as meteor outbursts and meteor storms, which produce at least 1,000 meteors an hour, most notably from the Leonids.
The Meteor Data Centre lists over 900 suspected meteor showers of which about 100 are well established. Several organizations point to viewing opportunities on the Internet.
The first great meteor storm in the modern era was the Leonids of November 1833. One estimate is a peak rate of over one hundred thousand meteors an hour, but another, done as the storm abated, estimated in excess of two hundred thousand meteors during the 9 hours of storm, over the entire region of North America east of the Rocky Mountains.
American Denison Olmsted (1791–1859) explained the event most accurately. After spending the last weeks of 1833 collecting information, he presented his findings in January 1834 to the American Journal of Science and Arts, published in January–April 1834, and January 1836.
He noted the shower was of short duration and was not seen in Europe, and that the meteors radiated from a point in the constellation of Leo and he speculated the meteors had originated from a cloud of particles in space.
Work continued, yet coming to understand the annual nature of showers though the occurrences of storms perplexed researchers.
Famous meteor showers:
- Perseids and Leonids
- Other meteor showers
- Established meteor showers