There’s a meteor shower that’ll be visible tonight. Correction: it’ll be visible to lots of people. But not me. Oh, no. Why not? Because it’s friggin’ cloudy. Again! This is the 3rd or 4th meteor shower I’m going to miss because of stupid clouds. I HATE YOU CLOUDS!
Oh well. What can I do about it, right? Can’t get mad at the clouds for existing(but I will anyway). I just really love meteor showers. When I was working at ground zero, I had to leave my house at around 4 – 4:30 a.m. One day, I was running late. So, I called a cab and went out front to wait for it. I have this habit that every time I go out when it’s dark, I look up. I must’ve seen 10 “shooting stars” that morning. All in the 5 – 10 minutes it took for the cab to show up. It was amazing. I’d seen shooting stars before, but never like that.
Anyway, besides being beautiful, I love meteor showers for another reason. The SCIENCE 🙂 Shooting stars are not actual stars. And meteor showers are not caused by meteors.
A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet
As a comet approaches the inner solar system, solar radiation causes the volatile materials within the comet to vaporize and stream out of the nucleus, carrying dust away with them. The streams of dust and gas thus released form a huge, extremely tenuous atmosphere around the comet called the coma, and the force exerted on the coma by the Sun’s radiation pressure and solar wind cause an enormous tail to form, which points away from the sun.
So, when a comet passes through Earth’s path, that debris hits Earth’s atmosphere and burns up. What we see, we call a meteor shower. The short period comets are thought to have originated in the Kuiper belt, which is just passed Neptune and is where Pluto and the other dwarf planets hang out. Longer period comets are thought to have originated in the Oort cloud.
The Oort cloud is thought to be a remnant of the original protoplanetary disc that formed around the Sun approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The most widely accepted hypothesis is that the Oort cloud’s objects initially coalesced much closer to the Sun as part of the same process that formed the planets and asteroids, but that gravitational interaction with young gas giant planets such as Jupiter ejected the objects into extremely long elliptic or parabolic orbits.
Imagine, when looking up at a meteor shower, that you might be seeing the debris from a comet that was originally nearly a light-year away from the Earth. That’s about 5,878,630,000,000 miles.
(There are other types of comets, but these are the most common ones, if you can even consider a comet “common”.)
These are the things that go through my mind when I see things like meteor showers. That’s why I don’t need to believe in a Supreme Being…the universe is amazing enough for me. And it’s also why I’m pissed off at the fucking clouds for ruining it for me! Stoopid rain!
If you have questions about this meteor shower, the best way to view it, or if you really have a thing for those guys over there at NASA there will be a live chat with Bill Cooke tonight from 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. (NASA parties all night long!).