It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a shooting star! If you look up at the night sky this week, you may see a Perseid meteor. Every year, around mid-August, the Earth passes through the debris field of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The result: a summer night light show! We call this meteor shower “The Perseids” because the point the meteors start at (the radiant) is located in the constellation Perseus also known as “The Hero”.
Some History of the Perseids
Comet Swift-Tuttle orbits around the sun once every 133 years. The last time Swift-Tuttle’s orbit was near the sun was in 1992 and will return in 2125. While the comet is nowhere near Earth, our planet passes through its debris trail every year at the same time, allowing some leftover dust and rock to enter our atmosphere. The dust and rock encounter air friction, causing the material to burn up, giving off that commonly-known bright streak appearance. These burning pieces of material streaking across the sky are what we call a meteor or shooting stars.
Fast Facts About Meteors
If you had to guess how fast meteors streaks across the sky what would you guess? Maybe a couple of hundred miles an hour? In actuality, most meteors are traveling at a blistering 25,000 miles per hour. They can move up to 160,000 miles per hour!!!
How about the size? Most meteors are about the size of a small pebble all the way down to a grain of sand. Think of it like throwing a small pebble at a pond at high velocity. The small stone creates pretty large ripples as it quickly skips across the surface. The same thing is happening along the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere at a much faster rate. This time instead of creating ripples, the stone is hurtling into the edge of the earth’s atmosphere at thousands of miles an hour. The friction of the atmosphere burns it up instantly.
The bright streak that we see is caused more by the extreme speed of the comet debris at impact rather than the mass.
Meteor Shower Peak and The Forecast
This year’s Perseid Meteor shower will peak tonight Wednesday, August 11, and last into the morning of Thursday, August 12. The Perseids run between July 17 and August 26 every year. The peak will allow you to see up to 100 meteors an hour!
The best time to view the meteors will be this evening (August 11) after midnight into the early morning hours (August 12) before sunrise. You can still see the Perseids, however, all the way through August 26. They will be much less frequent after tonight’s showcase.
The viewing conditions should be very good. Skies should be mostly clear since the smoke has cleared the area. A few high passing clouds could be possible overnight.
Summary and Tips
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are viewing this incredible astronomical display:
- Peak will be tonight (Wednesday) into Thursday morning.
- While the meteors will originate from the northeast, do not look directly at the radiant! Instead, look to the north as the tails will be longer and easier to see.
- Light pollution from the cities will greatly decrease the number of meteors you could see.
- Lay down somewhere dark and look straight up. Even if you do not look at the radiant directly, you will still be able to see some of them streak across the sky.
- Lastly, be sure to enjoy this mid-August tradition if you get the chance!
- Don’t forget the BUG SPRAY!
Live Meteor Count Update from the IMO (International Meteor Organization)
For the live meteor count from the Perseids click the link below.