Shooting stars mystify admirers with their luminous charm. Countless hopefuls wish for love and romance as these “stars” zap across the velvet sky. The reality however is that shooting stars have nothing to do with stars at all. The candescent streaks of light people love to wish upon are actually meteors or meteor showers. When one thinks of meteor showers, a far less romantic picture is envisioned. Rather, scenes of strange clunky rocks firing violently from the sky smashing into the earth play out in the mind like those depicted in apocalyptic themed movies.
One could spend all day describing meteors with jazzed up adjectives, but to better appreciate them one has to know what the heck they are.
Travis Rector, UAA professor of astronomy and physics, shared basic facts about meteors in a clear, comprehensible manner anyone could understand.
“Meteors are objects made of dust, grain and small rocks, usually the size of pebbles, that regularly hit the earth’s atmosphere at a high speed. As they are burning up, they produce a bright streak across the sky,” Rector said. “Meteor sightings are not unusual, and if you step out an any given night, you could see one or two shooting through the sky per hour.”
“As comets — which are made of ice and dirt travel through the solar system and start to melt from the sun’s light — they leave a trail of dust behind them,” Rector continued. “Every so often the Earth will pass through one of these trails and we’ll see the number of meteors pick up in a meteor shower. They occur every so often throughout the year.”
The Perseid meteor shower recently put on a show this month. As many as one meteor per minute could be seen during the show. It is one of the highlights of the year. If you missed the peak show, NASA’s main website has posted videos for you watch.
Rector, who is an avid follower of NASA’s Twitter feed, recommends it for students who want to find out about up coming meteor showers.