It’s that special time of year again when, scanning the dark night skies, you might just catch a pocket full of stars shooting through the sky.
Indeed, the Perseid meteor shower is fast approaching and no, the ‘shooting stars’ are actually meteors or bits of comet debris and dust.
In the words of the New York Times’s Nicholas St. Fleur “Comets are sort of like dirty snowballs: As they travel through the solar system, they leave behind a dusty trail of rocks and ice that lingers in space long after they leave. When Earth passes through these cascades of comet waste, the bits of debris—which can be as small as grains of sand—pierce the sky at such speeds that they burst, creating a celestial fireworks display.”
Named for the constellation of Perseus, the meteor shower occurs when Earth crosses a 17 mile wide path of litter left by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, travelling in a 133 year long orbit.
Typically, under a clear dark sky you could catch 60 to 100 and more ‘shooting stars’ per hour. This year the event coincides with the rising full moon (15 August) and the intense light of the moon at the peak of the shower on 12 to 13 August will result in a drop in visibility to perhaps around 20 per hour, according to NASA. However, the Perseids are usually bright so look out for those bursts of fireworks.
The showers will be visible all over the world between 2am and dawn. For those in the Southern Hemisphere the showers will unfortunately not be as bright. NASA suggests late nights or early mornings of Aug. 11 to 12 and Aug. 12 to 13.
According to NASA, on the 11th there will about an hour of dark sky between 3am, when the moon sets, and twilight to see the showers. On the 12th, the same window will have shrunk to only minutes long.
Of course, you can look for the showers any time after dark and if not, join the NASA Meteor Watch Facebook page.
Best viewing will be away from the glare of city lights, lay on your back and keep your phone switched off. Your eyes will adjust to the dark in about 30 minutes. Telescopes and binoculars will hamper rather than help as they’ll restrict your field of vision.
Enjoy Perseids 2019!
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