It is that time of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere when I gaze up to the night sky, along with a lot of other people, to catch a glimpse of the Perseids meteor showers.
The early morning hours after midnight until dawn of August 11 -13 are usually the best days, with the peak times varying year to year. Not having a Full Moon at the same time helps, as well as being somewhere where light pollution isn’t an issue. The two best views I have had were with my young sons in the Maine woods and on a cruise ship with my wife out at sea.
A few Perseid meteors would have been visible back in early July and the last ones can be sighted by some of us (and those with telescopes) through late August.
But if you’re in your hometown, it is still a good idea to go out and try to catch a glimpse of some “falling stars” the next few nights. The best part about this year’s show is that it will happen near the New Moon, meaning the night skies will be darker and perfect for meteor spotting. If it is cloudless in your neighborhood, you could see see up to 100 shooting stars an hour.
Of course, they are not stars that are falling, but dust to pebble size rocky material released from ancient comets. In those big numbers that we really can’t grasp, those bits have traveled journeyed billions of miles around the sun and are now returning as our planet’s trip around the Sun takes us through this shower of comet rubble.
As the falling material enters the upper atmosphere, friction quickly burns the particles and gives us the fireworks of luminous trails of the meteors falling down on us.
We are seeing this week the thickest concentration of the particles that came from the Swift-Tuttle comet. It was discovered in 1862 by two American astronomers, Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle. The materials radiates from 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.
You can check out earthsky.org, the next few days for best viewing suggestions.