View the Last Celestial Fireworks of 2006
The Phoenix Astronomical Society's September Deep Sky Star Party (Credit: Barbara Hartman)

Astronomy clubs across the country love sharing the natural fireworks of the season with others. The Geminids, which are at their most spectacular after midnight on December 13th, are the last major meteor shower of the year. For most of us, with some warm clothes and clear skies they can be a real treat. Learn what "shooting stars" really are, find out why we see them, and get to view other objects through telescopes at a local star party.

The Darien O'Brien Astronomy Club observed the Leonid meteor shower last month in Lakewood, CO. Darien reported that, "We started observing at 9:00 p.m. and had available 5 telescopes to use while 'waiting' for the meteors to 'come out'. The Orion Nebula was a crowd pleaser. We observed peak meteors (about 50 per hour in Denver city light) around 1:00 a.m."

Back in August, the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit got comfortable for some viewing. Chuck McPartlin wrote, "In addition to telescopes, there were squares of carpet set out so folks could lie down and watch for Perseids, plus Black Hole planetarium shows, and make your own planispheres and comets. We also handed around a meteorite for people waiting in line for scope views."

The Central Arkansas Astronomical Society took a dozen visitors on a lake cruise to introduce them to the Persieds as well as the constellations.

The Westminster Astronomical Society, Inc. showed everyone what actually makes the meteor showers with a program called AHA! Science Chicken Little Was Right. "We talked about comets... then we made a comet. As part of the show we dropped lots of crushed dry ice into clear pans of hot water to create the comets tail. We also stuck the comet on a nail over a sheet of white paper to show that as the comet 'evaporated' the chunks of rock came off and turned into meteor showers," says member Wayne Bird

And that is why we see meteor showers. We are passing through the remains left behind by comets. They are not dying stars. They are small bits of dirt, most about the size of a grain of sand, that get heated by friction upon hitting the atmosphere. Your local astronomy club can be a wealth of information and barrels of fun. Find out more.