EarthSky | How excessive up are meteors once they start to glow?


View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Kris Hazelbaker in Grangeville, Idaho, captured this photograph of the zodiacal mild and a meteor on October 11, 2021. Kris mentioned: “I had seen the zodiacal light the previous morning, so I made sure my gear was set up that night for early morning action. After framing the image, I set my intervalometer and let it run as the light got brighter. After downloading the pics, I found this one that includes a meteor.” Thank you, Kris! How excessive up are meteors once they start to glow? Read on.

How excessive up are meteors once they start to glow?

Meteors in annual showers – reminiscent of the present Orionid meteor bathe – are leftover dust particles from comets. These bits of cometary particles collide with Earth’s ambiance and vaporize. We see this collision as a streak of sunshine throughout the sky – a meteor – or, extra poetically, a shooting star or falling star. How excessive up are meteors in Earth’s ambiance once they turn out to be incandescent and start to glow?

Meteors mild up nearly as quickly as they hit Earth’s ambiance. On common, whenever you see a meteor, you’re a chunk of dust burning shiny about 50 to 75 miles (80 to 120 km) in altitude above Earth’s floor. But the peak at which they completely deplete within the ambiance varies.

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Some meteors, reminiscent of August’s Perseids, deplete within the ambiance at about 60 miles (100 km) above Earth’s floor. Other meteors, such because the Draconids in October, fall to about 40 miles (70 km) earlier than they warmth up sufficient to glow and vaporize.

The distinction is that the Draconids are a lot slower meteors than the Perseids. The peak within the ambiance at which a meteor begins to glow depends upon its arrival pace. Meteoroids dive into the ambiance at speeds starting from 25,000 to 160,000 miles per hour (11 and 72 km per second).

Streak of light in night sky over water and rock.
This Geminid meteor flashed over Lovund, Nordland, Norway. Image through Tommy Eliassen.

Speeds for annual showers

There are a dozen main meteor showers every year, and plenty of extra minor ones.

Here are some meteor arrival speeds:

Leonids: 44 miles (71 km) per second
Perseids: 38 miles (61 km) per second
Orionids: 42 miles (67 km) per second
Lyrids: 30 miles (48 km) per second
Geminids: 22 miles (35 km) per second
Fall Taurids: 19 miles (30 km) per second
Delta Leonids: 14 miles (23 km) per second
Draconids: 14 miles (23 km) per second

By the best way, the size of a meteor’s path throughout the sky doesn’t rely completely on the meteor’s arrival pace. It relies upon totally on the angle at which the particle of dust slices by way of the ambiance. If the particle arrives at a low angle, it enters the ambiance extra step by step, heats up extra slowly, and cuts an extended swath throughout the sky, than if it barrels in at a steep angle.

The dimension, composition and density of the dust particle in all probability additionally have an effect on the size of the trail, however scientists nonetheless aren’t positive precisely how.

Bottom line: How excessive up are meteors once they start to glow? Meteors begin glowing nearly as quickly as they hit Earth’s ambiance, however are likely to vaporize at various altitudes.

Read more: EarthSky’s meteor shower guide

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