Animal Crossing has proven again and again to be an exquisitely well-designed game and has surprised many with its excellent representation of scientific concepts. Many players have written about the punnet squares of flower breeding, and others have made videos about all the animals in Blathers’s museum (even the bugs!). However, I’d like to turn your attention skyward. Let’s take a look at the meteor showers that happen above your island.
What is a Meteor Shower?
Before talking about meteor showers, we first need to understand the terminology. When a comet, a cosmic ball of dirt and ice, approaches the sun and heats up, it also begins to break up. This debris, which spreads out along the path of the comet, is then known as a meteoroid. Meteoroids eventually fall toward Earth, entering our atmosphere and burning across the sky. It is at this time, when meteoroids are falling through Earth’s atmosphere, that they are called meteors. When many meteors pass through our night sky at once, we call it a meteor shower!
While meteor showers always happen on the same day of the month on your island in Animal Crossing, real meteor showers are not quite as regular. For one, there are over 30 meteor showers that occur every year which are visible to the naked eye, and radar suggests 12,000 meteors that are about the size of a piece of dust hit our atmosphere on any given night. Meteor showers, which can last multiple weeks, have a “peak” day, during which you can expect to see the highest frequency of meteors. However, you can expect to witness a meteor shower within about one month of the peak date from the previous year. For example, the Orionid meteor shower occurs between October 2nd and November 7th, when Earth passes through the debris trail of Halley’s Comet, but typically peaks on October 21st or 22nd.
How Many Can I Expect to See?
In the game, meteor showers vary between a handful to a few hundred per night. Meteor showers in real life show similar variation, and many events go without note. For example, the Northern Taurids only have approximately 5 meteors per hour, which is hardly worth going outside for. But, the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December regularly boasts 100 meteors per hour. Meteor storms, in which thousands of meteors can fall per hour, are even rarer. While these events are harder to predict, they often produce spectacular events.
Star Fragments vs. Meteorites
Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but the few that impact with the Earth’s surface are known as meteorites. While Animal Crossing’s star fragments look very shiny, meteorites are far more ordinary. Remember–they are chunks of ice, dust, and rock that are heated in our atmosphere and cooled upon impact with the Earth’s surface, so none of these components would make them particularly shiny.
While we can’t use meteorites in DIY recipes, as in Animal Crossing, astronomers can learn a lot from them. Astronomers use the chemicals in meteorites to learn about star formation, the order in which these chemicals were formed in our solar system, and even the history of life on Earth.
How Can I See One?
The next major meteor shower is the Perseid meteor show, which peaks August 11-12th and will have 60-75 meteors per hour. Meteors from this event are best seen in the hours before dawn by laying on the grass and watching a dark sky. For more tips on watching meteor showers, see EarthSky’s excellent guide.
If the sky is dark and the clouds aren’t in your way, meteor showers can be a truly spectacular sight to behold. Pixelated light in Animal Crossing just can’t compare to the splendour of our own universe!