Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day we feature a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

January 26, 1996

Quadrantids: Meteors in Perspective
Credit: Sirko Molau, IMO, Archenhold-Sternwarte

Explanation: Meteor showers are caused by streams of solid particles, dust size and larger, moving as a group through space. In many cases, the orbits of these meteor streams can be identified with the dust tails of comets. When the Earth passes through the streams, the particles leave brilliant trails through the night sky as they burn up in the atmosphere. Above is an image of a meteor shower known as the Quadrantids. It was made in January 1995 using MOVIE, a new system for making video meteor observations. To make the image, frames from a video tape were computer processed and superposed to show the relative paths of many meteors in the shower. The meteor paths are all parallel to each other, but the effect of perspective causes the trails to appear to originate from a distant radiant point in the sky. In contrast to the elongated meteor trails, the brighter stars of the familiar constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) are visible as points in the lower half of the image.

Tomorrow's picture: M8: An Open Cluster in the Lagoon

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.