This Sunday night you might want to let your kids stay up late. Sunday June 30th is National Meteor Watch Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the wonders outside of our world as we know it. All you need is a blanket, your backyard, the lights off, and a cloudless sky; maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot a glowing streak of a meteor entering our atmosphere!
What are Meteors?
Meteors are made up of dust and pieces of rock from space that burn up as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. As they burn, they turn different colors. The different colors indicate the different gases that the rocks are made up of. The bright light that seems to be “falling” across the sky is actually glowing hot air that zips through the atmosphere after the hot rock dissolves.
Meteors can end up in our atmosphere from the tails of comets or the orbits of asteroids. The Earth’s path through space leads us through a concentration of debris annually, causing greater concentrations of meteor showers around the same time every year.
Most of the meteor showers that we see annually are created by comets that are orbiting the sun, leaving behind a trail for the Earth to go through. However, random meteors can appear on any particular night, averaging about six per hour all year round. Our atmosphere constantly protects the Earth, so most of the time we don’t notice a passing meteor unless we’re looking for it.
If a meteor passes through the layers of the atmosphere without completely disintegrating, it is called a meteorite. Meteorites that make it to Earth are typically quite large. They end up shining brighter in the sky because of their size, but they are still hard to find once they hit the ground.
Meteors and the Moon
Have you ever seen the man in the moon? His face was actually made by meteors!
In the beginning of our solar system there was a lot of space debris floating around. A lot of this was rock and ice, which clumped together forming asteroids and meteorites. Because the moon doesn’t have any atmosphere, like the Earth does, this debris barreled right into the moon’s surface. It took major impact, creating the craters.
The moon doesn’t have any weather or geologic activity (volcanoes) to erode the harsh craters, so they remain intact after centuries.
How to Look for Meteor Showers
A few websites allow users to look at an interactive sky chart that tracks larger showers. They tell you what meteor showers you might possibly see from your hemisphere and location.
Here are some sites that you can use to track the showers:
Maybe this Sunday June 30th you’ll be able to wish upon a falling “star” on National Meteor Watch Day!