Perseids 2012

In the morning hours after midnight of August 11, 12 and 13, the Perseids meteor showers will be visible.  Early morning Sunday might be the peak viewing, although the morning of August 13 with a thinner crescent moon may be just about as good. That waning crescent moon will rise around midnight or later, only somewhat obscuring the Perseid display during the shower’s actual peak.

The inner solar system is laced with dust to pebble size rocky material released from ancient comets that journeyed billions of miles before slinging around the sun to return into the frigid reaches of deep space. During the Earth’s yearly journey around the sun, it plows through this comet rubble.

When this material slams into the upper atmosphere, air friction quickly incinerates these small fast moving particles. This creates the luminous trails of meteors we see crossing the night sky.

The first few Perseid meteors become visible starting in early July. The last ones continue to be sighted through late August. But, close to August 11th each year, the Earth orbits through the thickest concentration of particles once released from the Swift-Tuttle comet discovered in 1862 by the two American astronomers Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle.

These fast and bright meteors radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, but  the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. The Perseids are considered by many people to be the year’s best shower, and often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky.

The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains.

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