The Earth is constantly being hit by tiny pieces of space dust. This ‘rain’ of dust gives rise to what are known as ‘sporadic’ meteors. You will probably see a couple on any dark night once your eyes get dark-adapted.
However there are certain times of year when the Earth passes through a debris trail left by a comet or asteroid, and a meteor shower then takes place. .
The highlights of the year for all meteor observers are the major meteor showers, when you might see tens of meteors per hour. These occur at roughly the same time each year as the calendar above shows.
How can you spot meteors?
Meteor hunting is the simplest of astronomy. Get a comfortable deck chair or lounger, wrap up warm – even in summer it gets cold – face towards your darkest part of the sky – and wait! If there are two or more of you, look in different directions so you collectively spot more. It gets get quite competitive in our garden in fact, sitting back to back in deck chairs and shouting out “oo that was a bright one, did you see it”, knowing full well the other person didn’t – only to have the same done to you a few minutes later!
Organising group meteor watches is also a good way to get to know people and to introduce them to the wonders of the night sky without having to queue for a telescope. It can make for a fun evening, and there’s nothing quite like seeing a bright meteor or fireball with a group of friends.
You can also image bright meteors with a camera or even capture them on video. You can read more about this in our DSLR imaging guide and our video observing guide. In fact you can image and observe at the same time – set up your camera, leave it running, then sit in a deck chair and lie back to watch with your eyes while your electronic eye clicks away.
If you do have a successful evening please do let us know what you have seen via this website. During major showers you can keep a tally of how many you saw by writing a “1” on a sheet of paper each time you see one. Use a new sheet for each hour you are out, and then count up once you go inside to get an hourly rate.
Want to “join” the Meteor Section?
All you need to do is send us a report on your observations. Even if your circumstances or the weather don’t make it possible for you to go out and observe meteors, you can still catch up with other observer’s news here. Reports based on observations received are published via these web pages and in the SPA’s bi-monthly magazine Popular Astronomy. If you are not currently a SPA member, you are missing out on the membership benefits so please check it out.
Want to know more?
Please use the drop down menus on this page to access more information about meteor showers and fireballs and how to observe them. Also you can send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll endeavour to help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Finally – don’t worry about your inexperience or making mistakes when you start out. Every experienced observer has made – and still occasionally makes – mistakes; that is how they gained their experience. Personally I have lost count of how many times I have left the lens cap on my camera, or accidentally deleted an evening’s images…
Address in Popular Astronomy