Why Observe Meteors ?
The observation of meteors requires the minimum amount of equipment needed for an astronomical observation - just the eyes. Valuable data about meteor showers and radiants may be gleaned by merely observing, in the comfort of a deckchair and warm clothes, the passage of meteors across the sky. The sight of meteors crossing the sky during a shower can be awe-inspiring. Meteor activity provides further interest to the amateur observer who wishes to undertake observation and familiarization with the night sky and its many delights.
The type of observation requiring the least amount of effort and equipment is visual. Visual techniques provide valuable information about shower activities, radiant positions, the passage of fireballs (which may lead to the recovery of meteorites) and perhaps some insight into composition through colorations. Such observations require minimal experience to begin with, but gathering of further data requires an experienced observer. Visual observations of value may be gained by any keen observer, and when coupled with the observations of others yields reliable data.
Meteor observing is perhaps not such a well-known branch of amateur observational astronomy. This is a pity since much wonder and excitement may be gained from observing meteors. Observations may be made in groups, which helps to alleviate boredom, and observing may even become quite social. Much remains to be learned about many of the minor streams, and even about those which are well established and persist for decades. A stream list is given as an Appendix, but it is by no means complete or well documented. The origins of many meteor streams remain a mystery. The gathering of data about known streams and the search for new radiants is a challenge to the observer akin to that of comet hunting.
The accurate reporting of meteor data and its availability to professional meteor organizations is of primary importance. For this purpose observing forms are included at the back of this Kit; feel free to photocopy as many as you need. These forms have been designed after years of meteor observing, and have proved to be effective. It is important that a method for recording meteors is adopted and adhered to. Gnomic star charts for the plotting of meteors are available on request.
The following chapters are a practical guide to visual meteor observing. Later sections describe some alternative modes of meteor observation which may be followed up and are likely to be of importance to the serious observer. Short sections are devoted to these topics, but they are by no means complete.