Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks

Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks
In our post yesterday we mentioned that the Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night August 11-12 and 12-13. Earth is making its annual journey through the trail of debris left by Comet Swift-Tuttle. When those pieces of rock, mostly ranging in size from a grain of sand to pea-sized, enter Earth’s atmosphere at supersonic speeds, they burn up from the heat of friction. We see the streaks as “shooting stars.”

Earth has been passing through the Swift-Tuttle debris since July 17 and will not be clear of it until August 24. So even though the Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend, it is possible that you might see some of the meteors over the next few days. However, on these two nights, they should be visible at the rate of about one per minute. The best time to see them is after the Moon sets, and the best place is an area free of lights and with an open sky.

Every day anywhere from 100 tons to 1,000 tons of meteoritic material enters the Earth’s atmosphere. This material can come from comets or asteroids. The asteroid 3200 Phaethon produces the Geminid meteor shower in mid-December. There are other pieces of rock, dust, and debris in space that sometimes get trapped in the Earth’s gravitational field, and contribute to the hundreds of tons of material that reach Earth every day.

So what are the lessons we get from all of this? For one thing, Earth is not a static planet. It is gaining new mineral wealth every day. Our planet is vibrant and alive and has changed over the eons of its existence. The design of Earth’s defensive shield is incredible. With all of this material left over from the creation processes, it is critical that we have an atmosphere that is dense enough to burn up the space junk that comes toward us.

Every time scientists get a meteor sample we learn more about our neighbors in space. We knew a lot about the makeup of asteroids before science actually landed a spacecraft on one. Our knowledge of comets was advanced before we were able to leave Earth’s gravity and examine one up close. We continue to learn about the unique nature of the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the material that makes up our solar system.

While you are outside, take a look at Mars which is still closer and brighter than usual and visible until about 4 AM local time. Saturn will be visible until 2 AM. Venus will set about 9:30 PM and Jupiter at 11 PM. The planets travel near the ecliptic, the path of the Sun and Moon across the sky, so here’s your chance to enjoy them all. As the Perseid meteor shower peaks, it reminds us of the words of the psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower
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

Orionid Meteor Shower

Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionid meteor shower has just passed its peak for 2017. The “shooting stars” that are visible in this annual event are not stars, but they are comet debris.

Halley’s comet (1P/Halley) passes within sight of Earth about every 75 to 76 years. Like all comets, it leaves behind a trail of small rocks that have fallen away. Every year at this time Earth’s rotation around the Sun causes us to pass through that trail of debris. Comet pieces are pulled in by Earth’s gravity, and they burn up because of friction with our atmosphere. We see the streaks across the sky, and since they seem to come from the direction of the Orion constellation, we call it the Orionid meteor shower.

Two years ago I was able to “catch a falling star” on camera. You can see the one I caught streaking downward from Orion’s left foot. In case you have trouble seeing Orion, the hunter, I have added labels to the second picture.

I think Orion is interesting because God talks about it in Job 38:31. God finally speaks in answer to Job and his friends, and God asks Job a bunch of questions that Job can’t answer. Among those questions, “Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their season?” In other words, “Can you untie the belt of Orion?” Of course, Job could not. Nor could he do any of the other things in the questions God asked of him in chapters 38 and 39. Only God can.

The point God was trying to get across to Job is that God is in control and we need to trust Him, even when we can’t understand why things don’t go the way we think they should. Job finally understood that and said, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).

There are events in the world and in my life that make me wonder why God allows those things to happen. Orion reminds me that I am not in control, but God is. Like Job, I have to realize that there are things I just don’t understand. The Orionid meteor shower is a yearly reminder of that.
–Roland Earnst © 2017