Peak Perseid meteor shower approaching
One annual meteor shower produces more fireballs across the night sky than any other, NASA reports, and it’s just days away.
With a crescent moon leaving little celestial competition in the black night sky, the bright streaking meteors should be attention grabbing and even fainter ones more visible. For those willing to stay up late or get up early, the meteor show promises to provide a light display as comet debris of ice and dust, most more than 1,000 years old, burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA has been tracking fireball activity since 2008 and reports the upcoming Perseid meteor shower is the fireball producing champion.
NASA describes a fireball as a “very bright meteor” rivaling the brightness of those planetary standouts of Jupiter and Venus.
Fireballs may be more numerous with the Perseid meteor shower because it comes from the sizable Comet Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle takes 133 years to orbit the sun once. Comet Swift-Tuttle last visited the inner solar system in 1992.
“Every year in early- to mid-August, Earth passes through a cloud of dust sputtered off the comet as it approaches the sun,” NASA reported, noting Perseid meteors hit the atmosphere at 132,000 mph to produce “an annual light show that is a favorite of many backyard sky watchers.”
The Perseid meteor show is active from July 17 to Aug. 24, but the peak days next week may include 60 meteors per hour or more.
“With very fast and bright meteors, Perseids frequently leave long ‘wakes’ of light and color behind them as they streak through the Earth’s atmosphere,” NASA notes. “Fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of cometary material.”
Peak times to watch for the fireballs are between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Aug. 11 and Aug. 12. The meteor show should peak before sunrise. While the meteors are named for the constellation they appear to come from — Perseus. But meteors may appear anywhere overhead.
In its viewing tips, NASA advises setting up a blanket or lawn chair. The best viewing may come from being flat on your back with feet facing northeast and then looking up into the night sky. Be patient and watch for at least 30 minutes, NASA advises.
“Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any movement up above, and you’ll be able to spot more meteors,” NASA reported. “Avoid looking at your cell phone or any other light. Both destroy night vision. If you have to look at something on Earth, use a red light.”
The meteor rate in dark skies could top 100 per hour during the shower’s peak. To get the most out of the event, skywatchers are advised to get away from the city lights.
“For every fireball that streaks out of Perseus, there will be dozens more ordinary meteors,” NASA reported.
In addition to the extra light show expected with this summer’s Perseid meteor shower, there continues to be the potential for a spectacular show with the comet ISON in November.
Earlier this year Jim Wentworth, retired electrical engineer and former Central Lakes College astronomy instructor with the Fire in the Sky Observatory near Nisswa, said expectations are high for comet ISON, billed as possibly being the comet of the century.
But until then the celestial show is with the Perseids.
NASA will host a live broadcast of the meteor shower beginning Aug. 10 and continuing until Aug. 12 to help stargazers who may not have clear weather overhead. NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, will host a live web chat to answer questions about the Perseids from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. beginning on Aug. 10.
For more information, check out http://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/perseids_2013.html#.Uf7koJXiMQJ