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Meteors, Meteorites and Meteoroids

What is Meteor?

A Meteor also known as a falling star is an object normally a rock or dirt that is burning up in the upper atmosphere. Meteor, Meteorite and Meteroid are three terms that refer to the different stages in which a piece of debris travels through space and lands on Earth.

Stages and Differences of Meteroid, Meteor and Meteorite

Hollywood Movies

A lot of people have heard of this phenomena thanks to the Hollywood blockbusters Meteor (1979), Deep Impact and Armageddon ( Both 1998 ). In those films, the scientists know what is going to happen so they can prevent it. The scientists in the films come up with elaborate plans on how to destroy the meteor but in reality, wouldn't work.

Detecting a Meteor Threat

In reality, there are so many meteoroids up there and so small a number of people looking that its going to take a lot of luck to find the doomsday object. It is alleged that a meteor collision with the upper atmosphere was detected causing Defense staff to wake President Bill Clinton. New Scientist.

In 1908 a meteorite exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, Russia destroying a large area of land. Death was minimal because it was a relatively low inhabited part of the world. Another meteorite crashed into a village in Canada at about the beginning or before the 20th Century which did cause death. The aftermath of a meteor crash on New York would be incalculable. The likelihood of a meteor smash on a heavily populated is tiny, these area cover a fraction of the earth surface so the possibility of it hitting a densely populated area is small.

When a Meteor is detected, it is usually never kept secret, it is revealed in press briefings. Sometimes the Meteor is only detected late and by that time has proven not to be a threat.

The worlds land mass takes up only a third so it is more likely it would hit into the water but they you would have to worry about a tidal wave. It should be remembered a meteorite is blamed for the death of the dinosaurs which people believe will happen again. All it takes is for a meteor that is 3 miles wide ( roughly the size of Canvey Island ) to crash into the earth to cause all or the majority of life to disappear. Every year the earth are hit by meteor showers as it orbits the Sun, Most if not all meteor showers are associated with a Meteor and when they approach the sun then the shower can be spectacular. Below is a table detailing a small number of meteor showers that we encounter every year.

Dealing with a Meteor Threat

Given enough warning, the greatest minds on the planet could put together a plan to stop the meteor from destroying all life on Earth. The ideas could range from firing a massive nuclear missile at the meteor and breaking it up. There is a big problem with using a nuclear device in that you can't be sure that the meteor would break into enough small pieces that it doesn't cause a mass extinction. Even so, when the missile hits the meteor, the meteor will break up and each rock will be radioactive so if they fell to Earth, whichever side of the planet they fell on, there will a huge amount of radioactive area on the planet.

A better way to resolve the situation is to do something that will nudge the meteor out of the path of the Earth. The earlier you did this, the less energy and angle of movement is needed to cause the large rock to change course and get out of the way. This is the one favoured by most people.

If a meteor hit the Earth, it would cause just as much damage if it hit the water as it did if it hit landfall. When the rock hits the water, a Tsunami would destroy everything in its path.

In the BBC Series, Space with Sam Neill, Tech Sgt. Rob Medrano of the United States Air Force said that they monitor the skies for possible meteor strikes. They notice about roughly four major meteor strikes a month.

Meteor Showers

A meteor shower is a relentless period of meteors hitting the Earth. The meteors in question are normally debris left from a comet or an asteroid as we cross their path. They occur at roughly the same period every year. Some can be quite spectacular if the associated object has recently come close to The Sun. The meteors in a meteor shower are likely to be small fragments, none that would not burn up in the atmosphere and become a meteorite.

Most of the meteor showers are named after the constellation and the Star that is closest to where meteor shower radiates out from. However, the Quadrantid, although they occur within the Bootes constellation, occur on the north-westerly end of the constellation boundaries are named after a now defunct constellation. Although, the meteorites are normally tiny specs which burn up in the atmosphere and that is what you see when they streak across the sky. Although if you look at the table below you might draw the conclusion that meteor showers are a Autumn/Fall phenomena, they're not really as I've not included all as yet.

NameActivityMaxDate
QuadrantidsJan 01 - Jan 05 Jan 03
Gamma Velids1-17 Jan5/8 Jan
Rho Geminids28-Dec - 28 Jan8/9 Jan
January Draconids10-24 Jan13/16 Jan
Eta Craterids11-Jan - 22 Jan16/17 Jan
Delta Cancrids14-Dec - 14 Fen17-Jan
Lambda BootidsJan 17-18Jan 17
Alpha Hydrids15-30 Jan20/21 Jan
Eta Carinids14-Jan - 27 Jan21 - Jan
Alpha Leonids13-Jan - 13-Feb24/31 Jan
Zeta Aurigids11-Dec - 21 Jan31-Jan
Alpha CentauridsJan 28 - Feb 21 Feb 07
Beta Centaurids2-Feb - 25 FebFeb 8/9
Omicron CentauridsJan 31 - Feb 19Feb 11
Chi Capricornids29 Jan- 28 Feb13-Feb
Theta CentauridsFeb 12 - Feb 16Feb 14
Sigma Leonids9-Feb - 13 MarFeb 25 - 26
Delta LeonidsFeb 15 - Mar 10 Feb 25
Rho LeonidsFeb 13 - Mar 13Mar 1 - 4
Pi VirginidsFebruary 13-April 8Mar. 3-9
March Lyncids25 Jan- 15 May07-Mar
Gamma NormidsFeb 25 - Mar 22 Mar 13
Eta VirginidsFebruary 24-March 27Mar. 18/19
Beta LeonidsFeb 14 - Apr 25Mar 19/21
Eta DraconidsMar 22 - Apri 8Mar 29/31
Theta VirginidsMarch 10-April 21Mar. 20/21
Kappa Serpentids1 Apr- 7 Apr05-Apr
Alpha VirginidsMarch 10-May 6Apr. 7-18
Gamma VirginidsApril 5-21Apr. 14/15
April PiscidsApril 8-29Apr. 20/21
LyridsApril 16-25Apr. 22
Pi PuppidsApr 15 - Apr 28 Apr 23
Mu Virginids1-Apr - 12-May24 - Apr
Eta AquariidsApril 21-May 12May 5/6
Omega Cetids5 May- 9 Jun07-May
Daytime Epsilon Arietids24 Apr- 27 May09-May
Eta LyridsMay 03 - May 12 May 09
Omicron CetidsMay 7-June 9May 14-25
Alpha Scorpiids21 Apr- 26 May15-May
Epsilon AquilidsMay 4-27May17/18
CamelopardalidsMay 23 - May 24May 24
South Omega Scorpiids23 May- 15 Jun31-May
North Omega Scorpiids23 May- 15 Jun31-May
ArietidsSept 7-Oct 27Oct. 8/9
Daytime Zeta Perseids20 May- 5 Jul09-Jun
June LyridsJune 10-21Jun. 15/16
SagittariidsJun 1 - Jul 15Jun 19
Delta PiscidsJun 20-26Jun 23
Pi Cetids16 Jun- 4 Jul26-Jun
June Scutids (Eta Serpentids)2 Jun- 29 Jul27-Jun
June BootidsJune 27-July 5Jun. 28/29
Daytime Beta Taurids5 Jun- 17 Jul28-Jun
Tau Aquariids27 Jun- 6 Jul28-Jun
July PhoenicidsJuly 9-17Jul. 14/15
Southern Delta AquariidsJul 12 - Aug 19 Jul 28
Piscis Austrinids15 Jul- 10 Aug28-Jul
Beta Cassiopeids3 Jul- 19 Aug29-Jul
Alpha CapricornidsJul 03 - Aug 15 Jul 30
Southern Iota AquariidsJuly 1-September 18Aug. 6/7
Eta Eridanids3 Aug- 14 Aug09-Aug
PerseidsJuly 23-August 22Aug. 12/13
Northern Delta AquariidsJuly 16-Sepember 10Aug. 13/14
Kappa CygnidsAug 03 - Aug 25 Aug 17
Gamma LeonidsAug 14-Sept 12Aug. 25/26
Northern Iota AquariidsAug 11-Sep 10Aug. 25/26
Gamma Doradids27 Aug- 3 Sep28-Aug
Alpha AurigidsAug 25-Sept 6Sept. 1/2
Gamma AquariidsSeptember 1-14Sept. 7/8
PegasidsJuly 7-13July 9th
September PerseidsSep 05 - Sep 17 Sep 09
September Epsilon Perseids5 Sep- 21 Sep09-Sep
Daytime Sextantids9 Sep- 9 Oct27-Sep
Delta AurigidsSep 18 - Oct 10 Sep 29
DraconidsOctober 6-10Oct. 9/10
Tau CancridsOct 9-25Oct 17
Epsilon GeminidsOct 14 - Oct 27 Oct 18
OrionidsOctober 15-29Oct. 21
Leo MinoridsOct 19 - Oct 27 Oct 23
Southern TauridsSept 17-Nov 27Oct. 30-Nov. 7
AndromedidsOct 26-Nov 20Nov 08
Northern TauridsOct 12-Dec 2Nov. 4-7
November Iota Aurigids1 Nov- 23 Nov15-Nov
LeonidsNovember 13-20Nov. 17/18
Alpha MonocerotidsNov 15 - Nov 25 Nov 21
PhoenicidsNov 29-Dec 9Dec. 5/6
Puppid/VelidsDec 01 - Dec 15 Dec 07
Delta ArietidsDecember 8-January 2Dec. 8/9
MonocerotidsNov 27 - Dec 17 Dec 09
Sigma HydridsDec 03 - Dec 15 Dec 12
GeminidsDecember 6-19Dec. 13/14
December Leonis Minoris5 Dec- 4 Feb20-Dec
UrsidsDecember 17-25Dec. 22
Coma BerenicidsDec 8-Jan 23Dec. 18-Jan. 6

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C. Sheats
I really appreciate you information. It hadn't clicked that the different names had specific meanings until you pointed it out. I only have one question. You said, "It is said a meteor collision with the upper atmosphere that caused the American President to be woken up." What president, when? Thanks for your info, I especially appreciated the list of meteor showers.