WASHINGTON, August 9, 2013- The Perseid meteor shower, with its spectacular fireballs, will peak on August 12 and 13, according to NASA. A favorite of many stargazers, the Perseids promise to put on a spectacular show this year.
The Perseid meteor shower is a result of the Earth crossing the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet’s orbital path is littered with debris left behind as the comet gets closer to the sun. When the Earth moves through its path, debris and comet dust hit our atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour, causing an impressive display of light.
With a six-mile nucleus, Comet Swift-Tuttle is the largest object known to make repeated passes near Earth. It has an unusual oblong orbit that takes around 133 years, coming nearest to the sun in 1992 and expected to return in July of 2126.
People on the Northern Hemisphere can expect to see up to 50 or more meteors per hour, while those in the Southern Hemisphere should see about one third of that.
This year will be especially good for viewing the Perseids because the moon will set before midnight, resulting in dark skies, optimal viewing conditions.
Considered by many to be the sky-watching event of the year, meteors are not the only things the Perseids bring.
The Perseid fireballs
“We have found that one meteor shower produces more fireballs than any other,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “It’s the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on August 12th and 13th.”
Studying fireball activity since 2008 by means of meteor cameras placed across the southern U.S. known as NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network, Cooke and his team have recorded and analyzed hundreds of events. The conclusion: the Perseids have the most fireballs of all other annual meteor showers.
NASA defines a fireball as a meteor that appears at least as bright as Jupiter or Venus. Fireballs and meteors can occur at any time, when random meteoroids hit the Earth’s atmosphere, but become more numerous when the Earth is passing through debris left by a comet.
How to view the Perseids
No special equipment or even knowledge of constellations is required to view the Perseids, all that is needed is a dark, clear sky, and a comfortable reclining chair or blanket to lay on the ground.
Timing: The best nights to view the Perseids are August 12 and 13, but they will also be visible on the nights of August 10 and 11. The best time to view the meteor shower is in the hours just before dawn. Give yourself a good 20 minutes to let your eyes adjust to the darkness.
Location: Look for a clear, open night sky away from city lights. Dark Sky Finder is a website that shows light pollution in and around North American cities. Clear Sky Chartis a 48-hour astronomer’s forecast that can predict whether the sky will be clear and dark at a certain location.
Where to look: There is no need to look at any fixed point, since the Perseids will appear all over the night sky. However, if you were to track all the meteors backwards, they will seem to radiate from the constellation Perseus.
Be Patient: Even though a major shower, it is important to be patient. At its peak, the Perseid shower averages 50 meteors per hour, that is less than one per minute, and they may come in spurts with lulls in between. Patience should pay off handsomely, though.
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