One of the best ways to experience nature’s true wonders is to stand beneath a black expanse of sky and gaze up at a meteor shower. With more than 10 major showers viewable throughout the year, stargazers have ample opportunities to catch one of Earth’s very own light shows. Here is your guide to the basics of meteor showers, when they are easiest to see and the best places to view them across Nebraska.
During a meteor shower, there are a higher than average number of meteors visible that all appear to radiate from a particular place in the sky. This happens when the Earth passes through a meteor stream. These streams usually originate from comet nuclei, which is a ball of ice with grains of dust and rocks embedded in it. As the ball nears the Sun in its orbit, the ice evaporates, rocks and dust are released and the comet eventually disintegrates entirely. The comet debris gradually spreads out around the orbit, forming a meteor stream.
There are about a dozen reasonably large meteor showers per year that can be viewed from anywhere in the world, including Nebraska. Meteor showers are annual events and come at the same time each year. However, because the meteors are not uniformly distributed about the orbit, the strength of a shower can differ from one year to the next. An important factor when trying to view a meteor shower is the moon phase. The visibility of a shower is greatly reduced by a bright moon since meteor showers are usually most active in the few hours before dawn. Meteor showers are much harder to see anytime before midnight.
Meteor showers vary from a relatively few meteors per hour to quite large numbers. Those with perhaps 30 or fewer per hour are not likely to be as impressive and sometimes are only apparent if you actually count the meteors. Others have a lot more so those are the ones to go for. There are predictions each year of the strength of some of the showers so it is a good idea to look for them to find a shower that is worth getting up early, or staying up late to see.
To see meteor showers, you should find a dark place away from city lights. In particular, you should avoid places where lights are bright in the East since that is where you will normally be looking for meteors.
Observatories in Nebraska:
Neale Woods Nature Center- Denton
Behlen Observatory- Lincoln
Seven Hills Observatory- Kearney
Hyde Memorial Observatory- Lincoln
2014 Major Meteor Shower Calendar:
Active Dates: Meteor Shower: Predicted meteors/hour:
January 1-10: Quadrantids* 120
April 16-25: Lyrids 18
April 19-May 26: Eta Aquariids 55
July 21-August 23: Delta Aquariids 16
July 11-August 10: Alpha Capricornids 5
July 13-August 26: Perseids* 100
October 4-November 14: Orionids 25
September 7-November 19: Southern Taurids 5
October 19-December 10: Northern Taurids 5
November 5-30: Leonids 15
December 4-16: Geminids* 120
December 17-23: Ursids 10
*These three showers are generally known for being the three strongest annual meteor showers in the northern hemisphere
SOURCES: International Meteor Organization and Edward Schmidt, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Physics and Astronomy