What Causes a Meteor Shower?

The Perseid meteor shower is coming, which may put you in the mindset to wonder “What causes a meteor shower?”


The Perseid meteor shower is coming in August, which may put you in the mind to wonder “What causes a meteor shower?”

When we see a meteor skirt across the sky, we are actually seeing Earth collide with a cloud of comet dust. This comet dust gets swept up in Earth’s gravity and begins to fall toward our planet at 158,000 miles per hour. These fragments are usually no larger than a grain of sand, so they burn-up upon entry into Earth’s atmosphere, and stargazers get to witness their fiery demise. Neat, right?

Now, it usually takes weeks to pass through these clouds of comet dust, but some parts of these clouds are denser than others. These are the “peak times” to view a meteor shower, where you can sometimes see around 100 meteors an hour. 

This summer Perseid is predicted to have 200 meteors per hour--double the norm--during its peak night (August 11) and morning (August 12). The comet dust for this meteor shower was provided by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle—a particularly interesting orbiting space body. The comet makes a pass by Earth every 133 years, but scientists think in a few thousand years its orbit may put it on a collision-course with Earth.

Sally Stephens of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific reported in 1993 that “calculations show Comet Swift-Tuttle will pass a comfortable 15 million miles from Earth on its next trip to the inner solar system. However, when [astronomer Brian Marsden] ran his orbital calculations further into the future, he found that, in 3044, Comet Swift-Tuttle may pass within a million miles of Earth, a true cosmic ‘near miss.’''

"Astrophysicists have been telling people for decades, at least since the ‘80s, that earth orbits the sun in a shooting gallery and asteroids hit Earth," says Neil deGrasse Tyson.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Florida's higher education system ranks best in the nation

A 2019 ranking of all 50 states' education systems shows the Sunshine State serves its college students well.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Florida may be the butt of many jokes, but its higher education system is second to none.
  • However, the state's PreK-12 education lacks comparatively, giving Massachusetts the top spot for the best education overall.
  • Americans believe their state governments should prioritize education, but much work needs to be done to catch up to other countries.
Keep reading Show less

5 of Albert Einstein's favorite books

Some books had a profound influence on Einstein's thinking and theories.

Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • Einstein had a large library and was a voracious reader.
  • The famous physicist admitted that some books influenced his thinking.
  • The books he preferred were mostly philosophical and scientific in nature.
Keep reading Show less

Space-faring humans: Why billionaires, not NASA, will get us there

Mega-rich entrepreneurs are taking us where no human being has gone before.

Videos
  • During the first golden era of space exploration, we went to the moon. Then we sort of dropped the ball for 50 years.
  • The problem is space travel is very expensive, especially the way governments do space travel.
  • Because it costs $10,000 to put a pound of anything into orbit around the planet, we need to have an infusion of public and private funds. That's where billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos come into the picture. With their help, we have new energies, new strategies, and new plans to go back into outer space.