Perseids meteor shower

Can Meteor Showers be Dangerous?

mLu.fotos from Germany, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many people think meteors are rare events, when in fact you can see a meteor about every 10 minutes in rural areas. Another common misconception is that meteor showers are once in a lifetime events when the sky rains down with hundreds of shooting stars per minute. This is also untrue, those are meteor storms – they happen every 33 years. Meteor showers annually and it’s more like 50-100 meteors per hour. Because of these misconceptions, people often ask me if meteor showers are dangerous to observe. Can meteor showers hit the earth and possibly kill or injure you?

Meteor showers are not dangerous, most meteors burn up in the atmosphere meaning it’s almost impossible for them hurt you. It’s incredibly unlikely for a meteor to hit the earth and even if one did, the chance that it would hit you or your property is even lower.

What is a meteor shower?

A meteor shower occurs when the earth passes through debris made from a comet or asteroid. This debris falls into the earth’s atmosphere as meteors. This leads to an increased amount of shooting stars per hour that all radiate from a certain constellation. Meteor showers are named after the constellation they radiate from. The most popular meteor showers are the Perseids, Geminids, and Quadrantids. These three meteor showers vary from 25-100 meteors per hour depending on the year. The dates vary by a few days each year but Perseids are usually August 12 or 13th. Geminids are usually December 13th or 14th, and Quadrantids are usually January 2nd or 3rd.

Meteor ShowerPeak DateZHR
Quadrantids Jan 03120
Lyrids Apr 2218
eta AquaridsMay 0560
Southern Delta AquaridsJul 3020
PerseidsAug 12100
Orionids Oct 2123
Leonids Nov 1815
Geminids Dec 14120
Ursids Dec 2210
Source: American Meteor Society

This is a table of the major meteor showers in 2021. Meteor showers actually last for about a weak but the peak date is the best time to view them. ZHR stands for zenithal hourly rate meaning the number of meteors that you will see per hour during the peak of the meteor shower. Please note that the peak dates and ZHR vary slightly each year, visit the American Meteor Society’s website to confirm the peak date if you plan to view a meteor shower. Also, the full amount of meteors can only be seen in places with low light pollution.

What is a meteor storm?

Painting of a meteor storm
Image from J R on Flickr CC Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

A meteor storm is like a meteor shower but much more meteors. While the best meteor showers have around 100 meteors per hour, meteor storms have 100 meteors per minute. Leonids is usually one of the small meteor showers but every 33 years it becomes a meteor storm. This was documented in 1799, 1833, and 1966. Unfortunately, the meteor storm in 1999-2000 was apparently disappointing. No meteor storm has ever been photographed, but there have been art pieces depicting them. Other than that, not much is documented on meteor storms since the major ones occurred before the internet was popularized. The next meteor storm should be 2033 or 2034 but again there is not much documented information on meteor storms and we don’t know for sure if they will even continue to occur.

How many meteorites hit the earth?

According to NASA, less than 5 percent of meteors ever hit the earth. Once a meteor hits the earth, it is called a meteorite. The chance is even less during a meteor shower as comet debris is usually weaker than normal meteors. There are 6100 meteorites per year which are about 17 per day. Most meteorites that hit the earth are about the size of a pebble. A good majority of those go unnoticed or fall into the ocean. The most remarkable meteorite impact in the recent past was the Chelyabinsk Event which happened in Russia. The strike itself did not cause most of the damage but the sonic boom that followed did. It is important to note that Chelyabinsk did not happen during the peak of any significant meteor shower. The closest meteor shower to the Chelyabinsk Event would be the Quadrantids Meteor Shower but that was days earlier.

Can a meteor shower kill you?

Navicore, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

No, meteor showers can not kill you, they are completely safe to observe. There have been no modern instances of a meteorite killing a person, but there have been historical documents with records that this has happened. However, most of them cannot be confirmed. According to Wikipedia “it was estimated that the chance of a single person born today dying due to an impact is around 1 in 200,000.” Meteorites can be dangerous, people have been injured by meteors in the past. However, meteorites from meteor showers are smaller and weaker than normal meteors meaning the chance of a meteorite strike isn’t increased by any notable amount during meteor showers. Multiple meteor showers happen every year but you don’t find meteorites on the ground in the morning.

Can a meteor shower damage your property?

Technically a meteorite strike could damage your home. However, this is INCREDIBLY unlikely. Movoto a real estate company created a calculator to determine the odds of your house being struck by a meteorite. The average house size is 2,687 square feet. Meaning the average chance of your home being hit by a meteorite in one year is 1 in 2,043,421,693,360. The calculator calculates for a given year which includes every meteor shower, and the odds are still extremely low.

Can a meteor shower destroy the earth?

A meteor shower cannot destroy the earth because debris from comets and asteroids are extremely small and burn up faster than normal meteors. Even if every meteorite from a meteor shower hit the earth that would not destroy it. What we need to worry about is that the comet or asteroid that created the meteor shower collides with the earth. That poses a much larger threat – literally.

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