What you’re really seeing during a meteor shower

Why are meteor showers like the Perseids so common? Turns out, space isn’t as empty as you might think. It’s littered with debris that forms those spectacular meteor shower we look forward to each year. Following is a transcript of the video.

Solar eclipses are rare and you can never predict when an aurora will illuminate the sky. But there’s one cosmic light show we can always count on. Meteor showers. They happen around the same time each year and have been doing so for centuries. But despite their brilliance and beauty it doesn’t take much to make a meteor shower. You just need three ingredients, the sun, Earth and a comet.

Comets have been around since the dawn of our solar system over four-and-a-half billion years ago. They formed out of the same disc of gas and dust that created earth and the other seven planets. And like the other planets they too orbit the sun but that’s where the similarities end. Most planets orbit the sun on fairly circular orbits whereas comets take a more elliptical path through our solar system. Check out Halley’s Comet for example. Right now it’s beyond the orbit of the furthest planet Neptune. But over the next 50 years it will travel about three billion miles toward the inner reaches of our solar system. Eventually flying past Earth in the year 2061.

And it’s encounters like this that make meteor showers possible. Because as a comet approaches the inner solar system, the sun’s radiation heats up ice under the surface and as that ice turns to a vapor it generates powerful outbursts of gas and dust, sometimes ejecting hundreds of tons of material into space per second. The result is a brilliant stream of debris called the comet tail or coma, which can stretch hundreds to …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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