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Meteor Storms: How Supersized Displays of 'Shooting Stars' Work (Infographic)

A rare meteor storm, or especially intense meteor shower, could happen if a particular comet was active hundreds of years ago.
A rare meteor storm, or especially intense meteor shower, could happen if a particular comet was active hundreds of years ago. (Image credit: Karl Tate/Space.com)

The rocks that cause meteors orbit the sun in streams, along the path of the space body that they originated from (usually a comet or a shattered asteroid). When Earth passes through this debris trail in space, a meteor shower is visible in the sky. An exceptionally intense shower is called a meteor storm. One meteor shower with the potential to become a storm is 2014’s Camelopardalids (kah-MEL-oh-PAR-dal-ids). 

New Meteor Shower from Comet 209P/LINEAR in Pictures (Gallery)

On the night of May 23-24, 2014, Earth passes through the debris trail of Comet 209P/LINEAR.  Observers in North America will get a good view of the meteors.

The intensity of the meteor shower depends on how active the comet was centuries ago. Currently, the comet produces few meteors, but fragments that broke off the comet 100 to 300 years ago will be strewn along the path where the Earth crosses.

Best Meteor Storm of 2014 Coming? 'Camelopardalids' | Video

Due to perspective, meteors appear to radiate from a point on the sky, in this case the constellation Camelopardalis (kah-MEL-oh-PAR-dal-iss). The radiant is very close to the north celestial pole, the point around which the sky appears to turn each day.

Meteor Shower Quiz: How Well Do You Know 'Shooting Stars'?

Shooting Star Reflections: The Great Leonid Meteor Storm of 1966

How Meteor Showers Work (Infographic)

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Karl Tate
Karl's association with SPACE.com goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. Starting in 2010, Karl has been TechMediaNetwork's infographics specialist across all editorial properties.  Before joining SPACE.com, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating  news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Karl on Google+.