Meteor Stream

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meteor stream

[′mēd·ē·ər ‚strēm]
A group of meteoric bodies with nearly identical orbits.

Meteor Stream


an aggregate of meteors visible in the atmosphere during the earth’s encounter with a meteor swarm —meteoroids moving in adjacent orbits and having a common origin. Sometimes the term “meteor stream” is also used to designate the meteor swarm itself that gives rise to the given meteor stream. The trajectories of all the meteors in a stream are almost parallel and appear to diverge approximately from a single point—the radiant of the meteor stream. Streams with a large number of meteors are named for the constellation in which the radiant lies or for the nearest bright star. Meteor streams are observed on approximately the same dates annually or once every several years. Several tens of nighttime meteor streams have been identified in the 19th and 20th centuries through visual observations. Radar observations of meteors have permitted the study of daytime streams as well. The orbits of several hundred meteor swarms have been determined by means of photographic and radar observations; most are similar to cometary orbits, primarily those of short-period comets. The orbits of several dozen meteor swarms lie close to the orbits of known comets; the connection between meteor swarms and known comets has been established in about 15 cases. (See Table 1.)

Meteor swarms are formed as a result of the disintegration of the nuclei of comets and initially move as a compact group occupying only a portion of the comet’s orbit. When they encounter the earth, the young compact swarms produce short-lived meteor streams with a very high number of meteors; such streams are called meteor showers. Under the action of gravitational perturbations by the planets, the Poynting-Robertson effect, and other factors, a meteor swarm gradually elongates along the orbit, expands, and finally disintegrates.

Table 1. Principal meteor streams
StreamPeriod of activityDate of maximumTable 1. Principal meteor streamsAssociated comet
QuadrantidsDec. 27-Jan. 7Jan. 3-4231+50 
LydridsApr. 15-26Apr. 21272+321861 I
η-AquaridsApr. 21 -May 12May 4336001910 II Halley
ArietidsMay 29-June 19June 745+23 
Southern δ-AquaridsJuly 21 -Aug. 15July 29339-17 
PerseidsJuly 25-Aug. 20Aug. 1246+581862 III Swift-Tuttle
DraconidsOct. 8-12Oct. 9-10268+601946 V Giacobini-Zinner
OrionidsOct. 14-26Oct. 2195+151910 II Halley
LeoaidsNov. 10-20Nov. 16152+221866 I
GeminidsDec. 1-17Dec. 13-14112+32 

Some currently observable meteor streams—for example, the Lyrids and the Perseids—have been known for several thousand years. Some meteor swarms that formerly produced active meteor showers—for example, the Andromedids and the Bootids—have moved out of the earth’s orbit because of planetary perturbations.


References in periodicals archive ?
Past observations show that bright Geminids become more numerous some hours after rates have peaked, a result of particle-sorting in the meteor stream.
private communication, A list of Southern Hemisphere Meteor Streams prepared from observations made over the period 1970-1981.
He attempted to monitor every major annual meteor shower and contributed valuable data for the analysis of meteor streams.