Meteor showers don’t stay in one place. Some of those rocks travel with extreme motions, hitting Earth from different angles. Scientists just created an animation where you can look at the freaky paths meteor showers take.
In a study published in the journal Planetary and Space Science, scientists from the SETI Institute mapped out some stunning meteor showers. From 2007 to 2015, scientists have measured 820,000 meteoroid orbits. Most showers don’t last long, but many of these meteor showers were long duration ones, meaning they lasted over 15 days.
“With our new visualization technique, it’s possible to know how such a shower looks like,” meteor astronomer Dr. Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center tells Inverse. “The tool is visualization of actual data from tracking meteors and shooting stars, the same ones we can see with the naked eye.”
Some meteor showers last weeks and even months, and meteors arrive from a slightly different direction every day. The SETI Institute researchers found that 45 showers have extreme motion. For example, some showers initially fly close to the orbit of a planet, but then move towards its pole within weeks.
“In this case, it’s the fact that the way the stream changes is visible,” Jenniskens says. “We can see the direction from which meteors are coming to Earth has changed. That’s quite fascinating.”
The group captured these meteor showers using low-light video cameras and created an animation on the meteoroid orbits measured by NASA’s CAMS video camera surveillance network.
The kappa Cygnids and omicron Eridanids have the most extreme motion, which have warped streams and fly near Jupiter at their furthest point from the sun. Jupiter likely causes their warped streams because of its strong gravitational pull.
Going forward, scientists will continue trying to understand why meteor streams travel the way they do, as well as how old these streams are, how much mass there is, and the underlying mechanisms.
“Fundamentally now it’s about mapping the universe around us and seeing what’s out there, and once you see these motions, the next step is to understand why that is,” Jenniskens says. “I think the most fascinating aspect of this is how this stream is structured and how it’s shaped.”
You can explore the animation, created by Ian Webster, here.