It’s time to bust one of the biggest myths about where the night sky’s most spectacular, seasonal shows come from.
Meteor showers are one of the night sky’s most spectacular sights whenever and wherever they occur.
While the Perseids, Geminids, and Leonids are among the most famous, the reality is that smaller meteor showers occur all throughout the year.
When the debris from a comet or asteroid collides with the revolving Earth, the incredibly fast relative motion causes these tiny particles to burn up in the atmosphere, producing a brilliant streak of light.
Most popular explainers attribute these showers to cometary tails, but that’s simply not true.
Tails, created by the Sun’s effect on a comet or asteroid, are pushed away from the Sun, and this material spreads out rapidly, never to collide with Earth.
However, if your comet or asteroid is in an Earth-crossing orbit, it will create a meteor shower.
Due to heating and gravity, small fragments will break off the central object, with dust and debris in between.
Over time, this debris gets “smeared out” all along the elliptical orbital path of the object creating it.
When that debris collides with Earth, that creates the meteors we see.
It’s the tiny fragments of broken-apart comets and asteroids that make meteor showers, not tails at all.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the cosmic tale of an astronomical object, discovery, or phenomenon in images, visuals and no more than 200 words.