One of the brightest meteor showers of the year can be seen over the next few nights. The annual Perseid Meteor Shower should be especially visible this year, due to the new moon (when no/little light of the Sun is reflected on its surface) not filling the night sky with light.
The Perseid’s are brighter and therefore more visible, than most other meteor showers, and are visible from mid-July to late August, peaking around mid-August. With the sky just now being dark all night, there’s no better time to catch a glimpse of them.
A great aspect of the Perseid’s is the trail they leave across the sky can be seen for a second or two at times – it’s actually ionized gas that’s left behind after the meteor has burned up in our atmosphere – so they’re easy to spot.
What am I seeing streaking across the sky?
Although they may be called shooting stars, what you are actually seeing are dust-sized pieces of icy debris left over from a comet. Each year, the Earth passes through this debris, with some of it burning up in our atmosphere. This is what you see streaking across the sky.
The meteors burn up around 100km (~60 miles) above the Earths surface. If any are hardy enough to survive and fall to Earth, they are then known as meteorites.
What comet produces this debris?
The comet is called Swift-Tuttle (named after the two people who “found” it just days apart), which orbits once every 133 years. The last time it was close enough for us to see with binoculars was in 1992, and it won’t make a return until 2126.
Swift-Tuttle’s orbit takes it farther away than Pluto, but at its closest to us, it actually comes in between our Earth and the Sun!!
How many meteors will I see?
If you can find a clear patch of sky, away from city lights, you may see around 1 every minute – but they may also come in bursts, and there may be lulls in seeing any – so please be patient… and you will see some.
People in the northern hemisphere will get the best view, but people south of the equator will also be able to see some meteors.
The first documented observation of the Perseids was by the Chinese nearly 2000 years ago.
Where will I be able to see the Perseid’s?
Generally more meteors will be seen as the night progresses, peaking in the early hours before sunrise.
You don’t have to look at any particular point in the sky to see them, but if you were to trace each meteors trail back to its “origin”, they would appear to come from a point close to the Perseus constellation in the northern sky.
In ancient Greek, Perseus was the sone of the god Zeus and Danae, his mortal
In Greek mythology, Perseus was the son of Danae a mortal, and the god Zeus. Zeus came to Danae in a form of golden rain – that streamed through the ceiling. It is said the Perseid shower commemorates that time.
This is where the Perseid’s get their name from. The point in the sky where meteors appear to come from is called the radiant.
It can take your eyes 15-30 minutes to adjust to the night sky light – so if you look up for a few minutes, and don’t see anything – give yourself some more time. You may see a lot of Perseid meteors streaking across the night sky, and now you know exactly where they came from, and when you can see them.
If you want to keep an eye out for other meteor showers, please have a read of this post relating to the Lyrids: Lyrid Meteor Shower – how many meteors do you want to see?