Found: 62 meteor showers new to science


The 62 newly proposed meteor showers have names like the Microscopiids and the beta Camelopardalids. “It got a little tedious to give them all new names,” says team leader Peter Brown. Above, a Perseid meteor streaks through auroras above Colorado in 2000 (Image: Jimmy Westlake)

23 September 2009 by Jeff Hecht
Every now and again, biologists turn up a bonanza of new species deep in the ocean or in remote corners of the Earth. But astronomers usually have to make do with a trickle of new discoveries, spotting a rare supernova here or a couple of backwards planets there.

Now, researchers in Canada report finding an incredible 62 new meteor showers, displays of ‘shooting stars’ that recur every year when Earth passes through the trail of debris left behind by a comet or asteroid.

“I was surprised to find so many new ones,” says team leader Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario.

He credits the wealth of discoveries to the nature of his survey, which detects incoming debris about 10 times as small as can generally be seen by eye, catching objects about 0.1 millimetres across. The survey, based near London, Ontario, uses radar to detect the trail of ionised gases produced as the debris particles slam into the atmosphere at blistering speeds.

The survey measures the paths of the debris particles, allowing researchers to trace their orbits around the sun – and potentially track down their parent bodies. “The central reason for looking….

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