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Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Ready for a free show? Here’s our guide to the brightest shows on Earth for 2017–meteor showers! And, there’s no telescope required.

The sky may not be falling, but it can certainly seem that way during a meteor shower. Shooting stars, as meteors are sometimes called  occur when rock and debris in space fall through the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving a bright trail as they are heated to incandescence by friction with the air. Sometimes the number of meteors in the sky increases dramatically, becoming meteor showers. Some showers occur annually or at regular intervals as the Earth passes through the trail of dusty debris left by a comet. Here’s a guide to the top meteor showers expected in 2017.

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1. Quadrantids, January 3-4  

At its peak this shower will have about 40 meteors per hour. The parent comet is 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. First quarter moon sets after midnight and meteors radiate from the constellation Bootes. 

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2. Eta Aquarids, May 6-7

This shower will have up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak and is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. The waxing gibbous moon will block out many of the fainter meteors this year. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

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3. Perseids, August 12-13

The annual Perseid shower will have up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. The waning gibbous moon will block out many of the fainter meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus.

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4. Draconids, October 7

This is a minor shower that will produce only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900. The Draconids is an unusual shower in that the best viewing is in the early evening instead of early morning like most other showers. The shower runs annually from October 6-10 and peaks this year on the the night of the 7th. Unfortunately, the nearly full moon will block all but the brightest meteors this year. If you are extremely patient, you may be able to catch a few good ones. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Draco.

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5. Geminids, December 13-14

The Geminids may be the best shower, producing up to 120 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17. The waning crescent moon will be no match for the Geminids this year. The skies should still be dark enough for an excellent show. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

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