All the shooting stars are so philosophical and romantic, we pray every time they fall. In the hope, may our wishes come true in life.
The Science of Comets and Meteors :Exploring the Beauty and Science of These Celestial Objects
Comets and meteors!
Fire from the sky
In earlier days, people feared meteorites for centuries. Some saw them as fiery dragons, others as weapons sent by some angry gods. But now we are way smarter than those people right? Let’s take a tour of the understanding of these objects closely.
In between the planets, space isn’t empty. There is gas, dust, rocks called asteroids, and even comets- which can be thought of as a small snowball. Some comets are so small you wouldn’t see them. But some are even the size of an island.
When pieces of comet burn up in the earth’s atmosphere, they produce meteor showers, and bright shooting stars race across the night sky, as in this picture of Leonid meteors.
They are known as shooting stars too. This phenomenon takes place about 90 km above the planet’s surface.
Meteors are a common occurrence and can be seen on clear nights with the naked eye, although larger ones can produce bright fireballs or even cause damage if they impact the Earth’s surface.
A meteor or a shooting star is a natural phenomenon that occurs when a meteoroid, a small piece of debris from a comet or asteroid, enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, producing a streak of light in the sky.
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by a comet or asteroid. As these small particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up and create a meteor shower, with multiple meteors appearing to originate from a specific point in the sky known as the radiant.
If this meteor smashes into the earth, it is called a meteorite
A cut and polished slice of the Esquel meteorite, a stony-iron pallasite. Yellow-green olivine crystals are encased in the iron-nickel matrix.
Why do we see different colors in the meteors
We see color due to the chemical composition present in the meteor. When the meteor is red it has high iron content present in it. While a meteor in the color purple will have a high content of calcium.
A meteor shower is an event where usually, just a few meteors are visible over an hour, but sometimes the sky is filled with lights that look like heavenly fireworks. These meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the orbit of a comet. You would never want to miss it.
Meteor showers are named after the constellation in which their radiant is located. For example, the Perseid meteor shower appears to originate from the constellation Perseus, while the Leonid meteor shower appears to originate from the constellation Leo.
The intensity of a meteor shower can vary from year to year, depending on factors such as the amount of debris in the stream and the Earth’s position in relation to the stream. Some years, a meteor shower may produce only a few meteors per hour, while in other years it may produce a meteor outburst with dozens or even hundreds of meteors per hour.
Meteor showers can be predicted with a fair degree of accuracy, and many astronomy resources and websites provide information on upcoming showers, including the expected peak date and time, the best viewing location, and the expected hourly rate.
Why does a comet look like it has a tail?
If a comet’s orbit takes it close to the sun, its surface begins to evaporate, releasing gas and dust. This results in a spectacular tail pointing away from the sun. we can see two colors in the tail. The yellow or white part is made up of dust. And blue streaks are made up of gas. This tail can extend up to millions of kilometers isn’t that surprising?
Differences between comets and meteors
While both comets and meteors are celestial bodies that originate from space, there are several key differences between them.
- Comets are large bodies made of ice, dust, and rock that orbit the Sun in highly elliptical paths.
- When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the Sun, its ice begins to vaporize, releasing gas and dust particles that form a glowing cloud around the nucleus, called a coma.
- The coma and tail of a comet can be visible from Earth, making comets some of the most spectacular objects in the night sky.
- Comets are typically several kilometers in diameter and can take hundreds or even thousands of years to complete a single orbit around the Sun.
- Meteors are much smaller than comets and are typically only a few millimeters to several centimeters in size.
- Meteors are formed when a meteoroid, a small piece of debris from a comet or asteroid, enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up, producing a streak of light in the sky known as a shooting star.
- Most meteoroids are small and burn up completely in the atmosphere, but larger ones can survive and reach the Earth’s surface as meteorites.
- Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left behind by a comet or asteroid, causing a higher than usual number of meteors to be visible in the sky.
Famous Halley's Comet
Comets often reappear at regular intervals as they travel past the Earth. One of the most famous Halley’s comet returns every 75 or 76 years. It has been named after the astronomer Edmund Halley who predicted it would return in 1758. It travels up to 2,40,000km/h.
Here are some of the meteor showers you can watch throughout the year |
The most recent one is the Lyrids meteor shower on the upcoming 22nd-23rd of April. we are lucky enough to have a look.
To view a meteor shower, it’s best to find a dark location away from city lights, and to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Look towards the radiant point, but keep an open mind as meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.
Some of the most well-known and popular meteor showers include the Perseids, the Leonids, the Geminids, and the Orionids.