One of the most spectacular meteor showers of the year will reach its peak on the nights of August 11-12 and 12-13. This year’s Perseids will be exceptionally brilliant because the moon will be only a small crescent and will set early. You can best see the Perseid meteor shower after 12:00 AM local time.
The Perseids are interesting because they frequently feature a brilliant fireball which can actually cast a shadow or a bolide which is a meteor that explodes. The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from the fact that the meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus which will be in the northeast for those of us looking up from the United States. However, you will see them streaking in any area of the sky.
The Perseid meteor shower is debris from the Comet Swift-Tuttle which was discovered in 1862 and returned most recently in November of 1992. These meteors are small particles usually no larger than a pea and as small as a grain of sand. They become visible at an altitude of 55 miles (88 k) where they enter the atmosphere with an average velocity of about 133,200 miles (214,365 km) per hour. Perseid meteors usually burn up by the time they reach an altitude of 50 miles (80 km) and never contact the surface of the earth. If they did, they would be called meteorites.
So, if you can, find a place away from city lights after midnight. Lean back in a lounge chair where you can see the expanse of the sky. The best viewing is with your unaided eyes. Binoculars or a telescope will not allow you to view the whole sky. Then just enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. We will have more on the Perseid meteor shower in our post tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018