A meteor shower is when a number of meteors – or shooting stars – flash across the night sky, seemingly from the same point.
Many times a year, hundreds of celestial fireballs light up the night skies. They may be called shooting stars, but they don’t really have anything to do with stars. These small space particles are meteoroids and they are literally celestial debris.
The Perseid meteor shower is one of the brighter meteor showers that occurs every year and will peak on the night of August 12 and early morning hours of August 13.
When Can I See the Perseids?
The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occurs every year between July 17 and August 24. The shower tends to peak around August 9-13.
The best time to view the Perseids, and most other meteor showers, is when the sky is the darkest. Most astronomers suggest that depending on the Moon’s phase, the best time to view meteor showers is right before dawn.
While many meteors arrive between dawn and noon, they are usually not visible due to daylight. Some can also be seen before midnight, often grazing the Earth’s atmosphere to produce long bright trails and sometimes fireballs. Most Perseids burn up in the atmosphere while at heights above 80 kilometres (50 mi)
Where Can I See the Perseids?
The Perseids can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere. Look between the radiant, which will be in the north-east part of the sky, and the zenith (the point in the sky directly above you). You can also use the above map with an app to find out where to watch.
While you can easily see a shooting star with the naked eye just looking straight up, Time&Date shows the exact direction of the Perseids from your location in a table.
Made of tiny space debris from the comet Swift–Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation Perseus.. This is because the direction, or radiant, from which the shower seems to come in the sky lies in the same direction as the constellation Perseus, which can be found in the north-eastern part of the sky.
Earth will pass through the path of Comet Swift-Tuttle from July 17 to Aug. 24.
The shower’s peak is when Earth passes through the densest, dustiest area, occurring on Aug. 12. That means you’ll see the most meteors in the shortest amount of time near that peak, but you can still catch some action from the famed meteor shower before or after that point
While the skies are lit up several times a year by other meteor showers, the Perseids are widely sought after by astronomers and stargazers. This is because, at its peak, one can see 60 to 100 meteors in an hour from a dark place.
Comet Swift-Tuttle, shown left in false color, is the largest object known to make repeated passes near the Earth. It is also one of the oldest known periodic comets with sightings spanning two millennia. Last seen in 1862, its reappearance in 1992 was not spectacular, but the comet did become bright enough to see from many locations with binoculars. To create this composite telescopic image, four separate exposures have been combined, compensating for the motion of the comet. As a result, the stars appear slightly trailed. The inset shows details of the central coma. The unseen nucleus itself is essentially a chunk of dirty ice about ten kilometers in diameter. Comets usually originate in the Oort cloud in the distant Solar System – well past Pluto, most never venturing into the inner Solar System. When perturbed – perhaps by the gravity of a nearby star – a comet may fall toward the Sun. As a comet approaches the Sun, rocks, ice-chunks, gas, and dust boil away, sometimes creating impressive looking tails. In fact, debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle is responsible for the Perseids meteor shower visible every July and August. Comet Swift-Tuttle is expected to make an impressive pass near the earth in the year 2126, possibly similar to Comet Hyakutake this year or Comet Hale-Bopp next year. (apod.nasa.gov – Astronomy Picture of the Day)
How to Watch Meteor Showers
- Check the weather: Meteors, or shooting stars, are easy to spot. All you need is clear skies and a pair of eyes.
- Get out of town: Find a place as far away as possible from artificial lights.
- Prepare to wait: Bring something to sit or lie down on. Star gazing is a waiting game, so get comfortable.
Several times a year meteor showers light up the sky. Find out everything you need to know about these celestial fireworks, including the yearly dates of important meteor showers, and when and where to view them from, in this handy guide.
Prominent Meteor Showers
While meteors can occur at any time of the year, some meteor showers occur at the same time every year. Some of the more famous meteor showers have been observed by humans for hundreds and thousands of years.
Quadrantids is the first meteor shower of every year, usually occurring between the last week of December, and January 12. It peaks around January 3 and January 4 and is best seen from the Northern Hemisphere. The radiant point for the Quadrantids lies in the constellation Boötes, close to the Big Dipper.
The radiant point of the Lyrids lies in the constellation Lyra. This meteor shower occurs between April 16 to April 26th of every year and can be seen from the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
The next major meteor shower of the year, the Eta Aquarids, occurs between late April and mid-May, peaking around May 5-6. It is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere, though observers in the Northern Hemisphere can also enjoy a sparser display. Meteoroids in the Eta Aquarids are remnants from Halley’s Comet. The radiant for this shower lies in the constellation Aquarius.
The Perseid meteor shower occurs in mid-August, reaching peak activity around August 11-13. Its radiant point lies in the constellation Perseus and it is associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle.
The Draconid meteor shower, occurs every October, peaking around October 7-8. The name of this shower comes from the constellation Draco the Dragon.
The Orionid meteor shower, which is also associated with debris from Halley’s comet, occurs every October, peaking around October 21-22. The name of this shower comes from the constellation Orion.
Leonids occur during the month of November, usually peaking around mid-November. It is associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle and is named after the constellation, Leo.
Geminids and Ursids
The month of December is good for meteor shower watchers, with the Geminids gracing the skies in early December, peaking around December 13-14, and the Ursids that peak around December 22-23. The Geminids owes their name to the constellation Gemini and are the only major meteor shower not associated with a comet, but with an asteroid. Ursids, on the other hand, get their name from the constellation Ursa Minor.
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