Stay up late or get up very early for the best viewing of a peak Perseid meteor show.
The annual meteor shower, the result of Earth passing through the debris stream associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, is expected to peak Aug. 11-12. What’s more, the debris trail is positioned this year in such a way that the night sky could be painted with double the number of meteors, according to NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Ala.
Rates could be as high as 200 meteors per hour, in fact. Such high volume is known in meteor shower circles as an outburst.
Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun every 133 years, leaving a trail of trillions of small particles. They burn up in a flash of light when they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. Larger ones are visible to the naked eye. Because of the orientation of the comet trail, the meteors seem to streak out of the constellation Perseus, hence their name.
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The Perseid source material has been moved closer to Earth’s path around the sun by the gravitational pull of Jupiter, said Bill Cooke of the 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,” Cooke said in a NASA news release. “And they’ve traveled billions of miles before their kamikaze run into Earth’s atmosphere.”
How to watch the Perseids
The best way to see the Perseids is to go outside between midnight and dawn on the morning of Aug. 12, according to NASA. Allow about 45 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Lie on your back and look straight up. Increased activity may also be seen on Aug. 12-13.
For stargazers experiencing cloudy or light-polluted skies, a live broadcast of the Perseid meteor shower will be available via Ustream overnight on Aug. 11-12 and Aug. 12-13, beginning at 10 p.m.
More about the Perseids
Perseid meteors travel at 132,000 miles per hour. 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. Peak temperatures can reach anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit as they speed across the sky.
The Perseids pose no danger to Earth. Most burn up 50 miles above our planet. But an outburst could mean trouble for spacecraft.
Source: NASA Meteoroid Environments Office