Meteors and Meteor Showers:
An Amateur's Guide to Meteors

By Peter V. Bias

Observing meteor showers is probably the least technical area in the field of astronomy. The observer does not need any optical aid, other than his/her eyes, and the observing can be done in the comfort of a reclining chair on any beautifully clear night. But there are certain things that would make your time spent outside more productive. This new book by Peter V. Bias is an excellent read for those wanting to know more about this hobby.

The very first chapter is entitled "An Introduction to Meteors." The author has a very enjoyable writing style that describes what meteors are and defines some of the common terms. It also explains the difference between a meteor, a fireball, and a bolide, as well as the difference between a meteor shower and a meteor storm. The reader is also told about the relationship between comets and meteor showers, which is important since the next section explains the magic of 1999 in the history of meteoritics. Basically it told of the publication of a prediction that the Leonid meteor shower would reach meteor storm levels in November of 1999. The prediction proved accurate within a few minutes of time and marked the first time such an event had been successfully predicted. The method has been used for many other meteor showers since 1999. I was a little approhensive about this section and wondered about its place in an introductory chapter, but, after reading it, I admired the simple way that it was presented by Bias. Almost all of this first chapter references later chapters in the book where things are explained in greater detail.

Chapter two is entitled "The Basics of Naked Eye Observing." This chapter informs the reader of the importance of being comfortable while observing. As the author notes, the observer can be lying on his back for hours. He also describes the need for comfortable clothing and alerts the reader that dew can lead to damp clothing, which can cause the observer to get chilly even when it is relatively warm out. Many beginning meteor observers make the mistake of not dressing appropriately or preparing for things like dew. The author's suggestion is to "use blankets, warm clothing, and get up and move around ever now and then." The chapter also tells the reader when to observe and how to observe, noting the importance of having a good knowledge of the constellations.

The book begins getting a little more technical in chapter three, which involves advanced observing. Nevertheless, the author still presents the material in an easy to understand way, with plenty of graphics helping to illustrate certain points. We learn how to estimate the brightness of a meteor and how to plot meteors on a chart. It also discusses meteor colors, as well as meteor sounds. In both cases, these are strongly affected by the perception of the observer, which is fully covered by the author.

"Some Important Meteor Showers" is the title given to chapter four. The reader is introduced to the Leonids, Perseids, Geminids, and several other relatively strong annual meteor displays. For each shower, the author provides a brief historical synopsis, as well as details about what the reader is likely to see.

The remainder of the book is basically an expansion of issues that were touched upon earlier in the book. The author provides two chapters that give a rather good history of the study of meteor showers. Another chapter provides the details of how meteor showers form and their dynamics. Chapters eight and nine basically cover the analysis of observations and what they can tell us about meteor streams, while chapter ten discusses the relationship of meteor streams and comets. The final chapter was actually one of my favorites. Entitled "A Meteor Poppourri," it is a somewhat random collection of subjects not addressed earlier in the book. The topics include anomalous meteors, the birth and death of meteor showers, the small-comet theory, and several others. As the author notes, this chapter ties up some loose ends, which ultimately makes this a very complete book that is quite up to date with respect to meteor shower science and meteor shower theories.

I really enjoyed this book by Peter V. Bias. He presented everything in a very well-organized manner and I really like his writing style. Besides the material I discussed above, one important aspect of the book is that Bias frequently inserts details of his own personal experiences and observations. To me, this is what really makes this book special. This is not just a book by a researcher, but it is written by an observer, and there is a lot of insight provided to the beginner--a beneficial insight that usually takes years to accumulate on your own. I highly recommend this book.