Meteor Shower “Clumpiness”

Have you ever noticed while watching a major meteor shower like the Geminids, Perseids, or the Leonids (esp. 1997-2002) that meteors come in clumps?  Often, you’ll see a bunch of meteors over a period of one to five minutes, followed by several (sometimes many) minutes with nothing.  In other words, if a rate of 60 meteors per hour is predicted, that does not mean you will see a meteor each minute!  Not even close.  This indicates that the particles in a meteor stream are somewhat bunched together rather than evenly distributed in space.

I can’t tell you how often someone has told me that they went out to watch meteor shower x, y, or z and didn’t see a thing.  Invariably, when I ask “how long did you watch?” they say something like 5, 10, or 15 minutes.  That’s not long enough!  If you’re serious about seeing some impressive meteor activity you really need to be out for two hours minimum, at a time when the meteor shower radiant is above the horizon.  Look generally toward the radiant direction—unless the Moon is in your field of view, in which case you will want to look in a direction opposite the Moon.  You also need to be reasonably well dark-adapted, and that means—ideally—no terrestrial lights should be in your field of view that are brighter than the brightest stars.

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