It’s that time of year again! Time to view one of the most popular meteor showers during the year: the Perseids. The meteor shower originates from the Swift-Tuttle comet and first appeared in A.D. 36, but it is named but named because they appear to originate from the Perseus constellation.
Images: Perseus Constellation
The active start date was July 1 7, but the peak time to view these bright and colorful meteors (that fall at a rate of 60 – 100 meteors per hour) is during the overnight hours between Aug. 11 and 12, Sunday night into Monday.
If that is not enough to grab your attention to head out for a view, this particular meteor shower is also known for its fireballs – meteors that shine at least as brightly as the planet Venus. The good thing about this year is that the moon will be in the waxing crescent stage and the forecast is looking decent with just a few clouds in the sky and temperatures in the upper 60s/lower 70s!
Image: Waxing Crest Moon
What exactly is a meteor shower, anyway? To sum it up – meteors are pretty much “shooting stars” or debris in space made of dust particles that to us, imitate streaks of lights that are moving at an incredibly fast rate. Originating from comets, the icy and dusty debris around a comet sheds as it orbits in space. Tracking them correctly is the key to finding the meteor showers at a given point during the year.
- Image: Swift-Tuttle Comet
Every year during this time, the Earth crosses the orbital path of Swift-Tuttle. The comet's orbit is close enough for these particles or debris to be swept up by the Earth's gravitational field, and they then move into the Earth's upper atmosphere at about 130,000 miles per hour!
This is where the meteor showers begin. These meteors sometimes leave persistent trains which are ionized trails of gas that last for a few moments after the meteor has already faded away. During the peak time, as in this Sunday night, these persistent trains should become more frequent, making the spectacular viewing more pleasurable.
Since they began in July, the Perseids are happening now. So anytime before the peak on Aug. 11 is a great time to view them.
After Aug. 12, though, the number of meteors per minute declines. If you want to go out and take a gander for yourself, make sure you are in a location away from the light pollution of the city and feel free to look in any direction!
All meteors can be seen with the naked eye so no fancy gadgets are required. You may be able to catch a few from the early to mid-evening hours but the number of meteors will increase as the night goes on, mainly after midnight.
Before dawn is the best time to view the most numerous of them, but make sure you allow time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness (which could be as long as twenty minutes) and give yourself time to enjoy the view; my suggestion is up to an hour.
Bring a lawn chair and just set up shop! You will be in for a lovely and free show brought to you by space!
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