In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
End the summer with a cosmic display of lights! The Perseid Meteor Shower, “anticipated to be one of the best potential meteor viewing opportunities this year,” will reach its peak August 11-12, between midnight and dawn.
The meteor shower is caused by the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years. The comet, a mixture of dirt and ice, heats up as it reaches the sun and sheds a trail of space debris in its wake. Earth travels through these particle streams every summer, causing the Perseids.
Most years, stargazers can observe up to 60-100 meteors an hour, but rates could reach up twice that much this year due to Jupiter’s gravity pulling more of the streams in Earth’s path. Dr. Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office: “Here’s something to think about. The meteors you’ll see this year are from comet flybys that occurred hundreds if not thousands of years ago…And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
Perseid meteors reach a “blistering speed of 132,000 miles per hour (59 kilometers per second). That’s 500 times faster than the fastest car in the world. At that speed, even a smidgen of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it collides with Earth’s atmosphere.” The meteors are not dangerous and burn up 50 miles above the planet.
Source: NASA’s “Look Up! Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks Aug. 11-12”
To observe the meteor shower, The California Academy of Science provides some helpful tips and context. Remember, be patient!
And if you can’t observe the Perseids directly, NASA is providing a live broadcast of the meteor shower via Ustream overnight on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, beginning at 10 p.m. EDT. The robotic telescope service, Slooh, will also have a live stream starting at 8 pm EDT tonight here.
Some More Resources:
The next meteor shower will be the Orionids, with peak activity Oct. 21-22 (See NASA’s Meteor Showers 2016 for details and more meteor showers during the year).
Learn more about meteor showers from NASA’s “Shooting for Shooting Stars” and check out your astronomy section at your library.