Media hype about meteor showers

  1. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 13,565
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    Media hype about meteor "showers"

    Every year there's a lot of media hype about meteor "showers". I have watched the Perseid shower in the past, at its 'peak' and, although the occasional trail in the sky is exciting - even mystical - the term 'shower' is total hyperbole. Around one of anything per minute can hardly be described as a shower. This year, in admittedly poor conditions, I saw one definite and a couple of other maybe's, in a period of 15 minutes or so.
    I am not complaining about the actual show; it is what it is and very welcome, too. But the wording used is almost on a par with advertisements for beauty preparations and new models of motor car. Where did Astronomers get this tendency to overstatement, I wonder? Most of the things they deal with are surely big enough and far enough away to justify impressive descriptions. 'Perseid sprinkling' would still be over the top.
    I want my money back, you guys.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Though I'm often the first to criticize the media, I'd be surprised if the term "meteor shower" was invented by the media.
     
  4. davenn

    davenn 3,568
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    Hi ya sophie....

    meteor shower IS an astronomical term NOT media
    there are radiant showers, sporadic showers and meteor storms
    well is a reasonable shower compared to the much lower counts of purely random meteors where there may only be 2 or 3 an hour.
    Some of these showers eg the Persieds, Leonids etc can produce anything up to 500 meteors / hr (8 / minute) in some years. What you also need to remember is that these figures are the visual figures. Photographic counts can be several times higher

    The Leonids are known for high counts. The Leonids in 1868 reached an intensity of 1000 per hour in dark skies.
    I like the Leonid shower, they are known for producing long trails. One I viewed in the 1990's from Dunedin, New Zealand its was only producing ~ 25 meteors / hour, the meteors were coming in slow and ohhh the trails they were almost right across the sky, and long lasting ( many seconds) quite stunning!.

    I don't know what you know about meteor shows ? if lots, then others may learn :wink:
    the counts vary greatly for any shower year by year. The showers are produced when the Earth passes through the dust trail left in the wake of a comet. Every show there is has an identified comet assoc. with it eg the Leonids is with comet Tempel-Tuttle.
    Because the Earth's orbit around the sun isn't on a flat plane (plain?), it doesn't always pass through the same part of the comet's trail. Some years it may pass through the core giving huge meteor counts ....meteor storms as they are known by. Other years it may just graze through the edge of the dust trail and we get a low meteor count

    cheers
    Dave
     
  5. D H

    Staff: Mentor

    I was lucky enough to be in a perfect place to see the Perseid meteor shower on August 12, 1972. If you too had seen that shower you would not dismiss the Perseids as media hype.
     
  6. SteamKing

    SteamKing 8,840
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    A plain is a geographical area or region which is largely flat.

    A plane is a flat surface having no thickness.
     
  7. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 13,565
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    Good info there Dave.
    I'd like to know how 'they' seem to manage to predict when the count is likely to be high or low. What clues are there?
    My only input on when and where tends to be via the media. Hence my use of the word media. So it's the Astronomers' fault? I guess one a minute is a high frequency compared with 75 years for a repeat of a comet or the time between supernova sightings. All those nights out in the observatory with no changes but the Jovian Moon positions and an occasional passing satellite.
     
  8. Have you ever sat outside on a night in which there are no "showers" and counted how many meteors you see? You would be lucky to see one or two in a few hours (there may be more occurring, but the odds of you being able to see the entire sky at all times is very slim). So, when there are, as dave pointed out, up to eight per minute in some showers, the term is certainly not hyperbole, due to the obvious increase in what normally occurs.

    Additionally, are you in an area with a good amount of light pollution? If you're in the middle of a city, it's unlikely that you would be able to see as many meteors as advertised.

    I see where you're coming from, however, because a lot of people (my aunt) expect much more than what they end up seeing. If you're looking to get a fix, there are people who will set up video equipment for the entire night, and will then speed up the recording to show a literal shower of meteors, which is much more appealing.

    Actually, here's one I just found.
     
  9. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 13,565
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    well, I have missed more astronomical events than you've had hot dinners. The Sun, clouds and my memory take about equal shares in the blame.
     
  10. davenn

    davenn 3,568
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    Well the orbits of the comets are well known and hence the locations of their dust trails.
    The orbit of the Earth is also well known. So putting those 2 bits of info together they can plot where the Earth will pass through a given trail .... through the core or out towards the edge of the dust trail.

    there is a little randomness tho, as the dust trails are not uniform in density, so some years the Earth may pass through a denser region and produce a larger then expected shower count

    cheers
    Dave
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013
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  11. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 13,565
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    Of course. That makes perfect sense. You need to think 3D and time, as with most of Astronomy.
     
  12. BobG

    BobG 2,346
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    The Leonids are usually rather low counts compared to the Perseids. However, every 33 years, the counts were very, even incredibly high (2000 to 4000 per hour). The reason is that the debris from Tempel-Tuttle hasn't had time to spread out somewhat evenly over the entire orbit. Since the density tapers off behind the comet, and since the last peak was in 1998/1999, Leonids has had pretty high counts even through the 2000's. But it's a shower that should decrease in count for quite a while.

    But, high counts or not, the Leonids are pretty spectacular. Most meteor showers are from comets orbiting the same direction as Earth. The Leonids tend to approach the Earth head-on. As a result, the meteors enter the atmosphere at incredibly high velocities, resulting in those spectacular trails.
     
  13. robphy

    robphy 4,338
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  14. chemisttree

    chemisttree 3,723
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    After you guys fix the shower, could you look into the whole "star party" thing?
     
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