Archive for August, 2016

The Perseid Meteor Shower
August 10, 2016

The annual Perseid Meteor shower peaks Thursday night and lasts through Friday morning.  If you want to take in the show you’ll want to stay up late or wake up extra early.


In perfect conditions stargazers can see 60 to 90 “shooting stars” per hour.  However, this year  European countries may be able to see up to 200 meteors per hour.  You can thank the planet Jupiter.  Every twelve years Jupiter passes through the comet’s orbit.  This occurred in 2014.  The giant planet’s gravity moved the particles towards the Earth.  Those particles arrive Thursday night in Europe but that is during the day in the United States so the west coast will miss out on this enhanced activity.  The east coast of the U.S. will get a little better show than most years.


Perseids look like Grape Nuts Cereal

These particles, or meteors, are about the size, shape and color of Grape Nuts Cereal. These tiny pieces of debris slam the top of the Earth’s atmosphere 80 miles up.  Each Perseid hits the atmosphere at 37 miles per second, creating a hot streak of superheated air that you see on the ground as a streak of light.  They burn up, never reaching the surface of the Earth.  It is inaccurate to call them “shooting stars” because they are bits of rubble that were shed in 1479 by the Comet Swift-Tuttle.  This stream of Perseids orbit the Sun and every August the Earth passes through the stream.


Any kind of light will hinder viewing of the meteor shower.  And this includes light from the moon.  The first-quarter phase moon will set around 12:30 AM PDT Friday so peak viewing will be between 1:00 and 5:30 AM Friday.  You don’t need any special equipment, simply go outside with an open view and away from as many city lights as possible.  These include street lights and house lights.  Looking northeast is a good idea but as the night goes on, if the skies are clear, you won’t miss a thing by looking straight up. Lay down on a blanket or a lawn chair is comfortable too.  If you are in a big city with a lot of lights you can still see the show by clicking this site: Bareket Observatory in Israel.  The astronomers invite you to join them August 11th beginning at 19:00 UT (12 PM PDT).

The Perseids get their name because the meteor showers “radiant” the perspective point of origin is the constellation Perseus.