Society for Popular Astronomy

Meteors – see ‘shooting stars’

Meteors, commonly known as shooting stars, are a popular observing activity for beginners because you don’t need a telescope.

The only requirements are somewhere to sit away from artificial lights, warm clothes, and some patience.

No one can predict exactly when an individual meteor will appear. But the numbers seen increase at different times of the year when the Earth passes through streams of dust particles in space, left by comets.

A bright Perseid beneath the Andromeda galaxy (M31), photographed by Paul Sutherland. Perseus itself is to the left of the frame.

At such times, we see what are called meteor showers. Shower is perhaps a misleading term because you will usually only see one or two every few minutes even for the best of them.

Other meteors showers are less active still. However, even on nights when no shower is active, you will see the occasional meteor.

Dedicated meteor observers watch and count the meteors throughout the year, particularly when there is no bright moonlight to drown them out.

Despite the fact no equipment is needed, meteor observing is a field where amateur astronomers can contribute valuable data that helps professional scientists understand more about the distribution of dust in the Solar System.

As an SPA member, you can help our Meteor Section to gather this data and so make a valuable contribution to astronomy!

Click to visit the Meteor Section