Go See A Piece Of The Comet That Taught Us Where Meteor Showers Come From

Science Go See A Piece Of The Comet That Taught Us Where Meteor Showers Come From

Nov 17, 2019 9:00 pm
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Every year,as Earth regularly orbits the Sun, meteor showers repeatedly recur.

E. Weis Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (1888)

August's Perseids and December's Geminids are annually spectacular, but November's Leonidshave moreastronomical importance.

Adolf Vollmy, engraving from 1889

In contrast to their typically modest show, the Leonid displayis spectacular every 33 years.


In 1833, the Leonids caused a meteor storm worldwide, producing 1,000+ meteors-per-hour.


For each of the next 32 years, they were quiet, but then exploded once again in 1866.

GEO Kompakt Nr.21/Dezember 2009, page 138 (L), and Wikimedia Commons user Skraemer (R)

British Astronomer John Couch Adams, famous for almost (but not quite) discovering Neptune, had a three-part idea.

NASA / public domain

1.) What we observe as "shooting stars" or meteors are small, fast-moving dust grainsburning up in our atmosphere.


2.) Meteor showers recur annually when Earthpasses through each dusty debris stream.

Gehrz, R. D., Reach, W. T., Woodward, C. E., and Kelley, M. S., 2006

3.)Everydebris stream is spread-out, but has a point of maximum density, corresponding to meteorstorms.


His idea was speculative, but provable, assuming he could find the parent body.

The Sky Live 3D Solar System Simulator

His experience calculating orbitswhile searching for Neptune proved indispensible, deriving a Uranus-crossing,33 year orbit for the Leonids.

Akimasa Nakamura, Kuma Kogen Astronomical Observatory, Kuma, Ehime, Japan

It matched the newly discovered Comet Tempel-Tuttle almost exactly, ushering in the meteor shower-comet connection.


The Leonids peak tonight, marking 153 years of humanity knowing the cause of these celestial fireworks.

Juraj Toth (Comenius U. Bratislava), Modra Observatory

Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.