The aim of the Meteor Section is to provide SPA members with information about meteors and fireballs and the methods used to observe them. Members are also encouraged to report the results of their observations to the section. We are interested in both “ordinary” shooting stars (meteors), and the spectacular fireballs that occasionally light up the night – and sometimes day!
The highlights of the year for all meteor observers are the major meteor showers. These occur at roughly the same time each year and during their peaks many more meteors will be seen than at other times of the year. However on any clear night, if you sit outside for a while, looking up, you should see a few meteors streaking across the sky. At first you may not be sure, something flickered across the edge of your vision – was it a meteor? A plane? A satellite? You will quickly learn to spot the difference and sooner or later you’ll see something that makes you gasp!
How can you get involved?
All you need is a good dark observing site, a clear view of the sky … and patience.
You can observe solo, but sitting out with a group of friends is usually more fun, and you will collectively spot more meteors because you can look in different directions. Local astronomical societies may find that organising group meteor watches at the times of maxima of the major meteors showers is a good way to get to know their members and to introduce them to the wonders of the night sky without having to queue for a telescope. In addition, seeing a bright meteor or fireball when observing as part of a group and hearing the reactions of other observers greatly enhances the experience and having someone to chat to also helps you to keep alert while you enjoy the spectacle.
The section director and his wife get quite competitive 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 they didn’t…
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