The Spectacular Perseid Meteor Shower
The Spectacular Perseid Meteor Shower is an annual event that takes place each August. These famous meteor showers light up the sky throughout the night in early to mid August with the most activity expected during the night of August 12 this year.
The name Perseid comes from the Perseus constellation, which is where these meteors appear to originate. Perseus can be found rising into the northeast sky in the late evening. This constellation is named for the mythical Greek hero, Perseus, who used “Godly gifts” to slay the monster, Medusa.
The specks of comet dust come from the Comet Swift-Tuttle. The tail of this comet is intersected by the Earth every year in August. As Earth moves through the tail of this comet, the dirt and debris create a spectacular show in the night sky. A meteor is typically just this debris as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere at very high rates of speed. These pieces of dust and dirt travel at speeds up to 132,000 miles per hour.
As this material moves through the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it, which causes the intense burning as it moves closer to the Earth. The burning of the material is so bright, it looks like a star falling through the sky. Most comet dust is completely burnt up in the sky and doesn’t make it to the Earth. However, sometimes the chunks are debris are large enough to make it all the way to the surface of the Earth. These pieces of debris are called meteorites.
The Perseid meteors begin in the area of Perseus and shoot outward in all directions (see illustration below). You should be able to view meteors by simply looking straight up, even though the meteors come from the northeast sky. When the Perseid meteors are most active, in the early morning hours up until dawn, it is possible to see 1 meteor a minute!
For the best viewing of the Perseid meteor showers, find an open, dark place with a great view of the open sky. Try to get as far away from city lights as possible as they make it more difficult to see smaller meteors. Give your eyes several minutes to adjust to the dark. It’s most fun to watch the night sky while lying in a big, comfortable sleeping bag!
Once you’re all settled in, look up and watch the meteors bring the sky to life! Isn’t the Perseid Meteor Shower spectacular?